SALT LAKE CITY -- Robert Cameron Houston is about to fight for the possibility of one day leaving prison.
Houston pleaded guilty to the aggravated murder of Raechale Elton, an employee at a Clearfield group home for troubled youths. Houston, then 17 1/2, was a resident of the home when the crime occurred in February 2006.
In 2007, Houston was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was just 18. Now 22, Houston is appealing his sentence, said Scott Troxel, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office.
Houston believes his sentence is unconstitutional for a few reasons, including that it is cruel and unusual punishment for a juvenile under the Utah and U.S. constitutions, according to the Utah Attorney General's Office. It is the main point of his argument that could affect future cases of aggravated murder involving a juvenile defendant, said Laura Dupaix, chief of the attorney general's appeals division.
He argues that his youth makes him less blameworthy than an adult would be and lessens "society's otherwise valid interest in retribution and deterrence," according to the Utah Attorney General's Office.
But according to Assistant Attorney General Chris Ballard's argument filed against the appeal, Houston's sentence was appropriate. When the jury sentenced him, it considered the context of his life and criminal history up to that point in addition to the crime itself, according to the argument.
"He was really just shy of being an adult, 17 1/2, and this murder is a particularly brutal murder," Dupaix said.
He also had a history of sexual violence that was escalating. He had a chance at turning his life around through his time in juvenile detention and the group home, according to Ballard's argument.
In other words, Houston "does not demonstrate that his sentence is shockingly disproportionate to his crimes," according to Ballard's argument against his appeal.
"Life without parole is not an automatic sentence in any of these cases," Dupaix said. "The sentencer always considers the big picture."
Houston will have time to argue that and more at his appeal hearing, set for 10:30 a.m. today before the Utah Supreme Court.