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Lebanon County juvenile lifers might be paroled

Written by Les Stewart/Lebanon Daily News | Jan 28, 2016 8:12 AM
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One court petition has already been filed in a decades-old murder and robbery case in Lebanon

(Undated) -- A U.S. Supreme Court decision this week could affect the cases of three Lebanon County men sentenced decades ago as juveniles to life imprisonment in separate murders.

On Monday, the nation's high court ruled that its 2012 decision is retroactive and applies to all juveniles sentenced to life in murder cases. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to automatically sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lebanon defense attorney Harry Fenton on Tuesday filed a petition for relief in the case of Michael Kutenits, who was sentenced on Nov. 1, 1976 to life behind bars for robbing and murdering John Yordy. His body was found in an alley in June 1976.

Kutenits, who was 18 at the time, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

Fenton argued in court papers that under the Supreme Court 2012 decision, known as Miller versus Alabama, Kutenits' original sentence is illegal and he should be resentenced.

Fenton's petition asks the court to appoint a lawyer to represent him and schedule a new sentencing hearing for Kutenits.

District Attorney David Arnold the Supreme Court decision "at least creates the possibility" that Corey Hollinger and Henry F. Whitman III could be paroled at some point. He said he had read the court decision but was still digesting it.

Hollinger was 16 when he was sentenced on Nov. 25, 1987, to spend the rest of his life behind bars for first-degree murder.

In July 2010, he filed an appeal contending that sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania and U.S. constitutions and was a violation of international law.

President Judge John C. Tylwalk, in an order dated Feb. 22, 2011, denied Hollinger's appeal.

Hollinger also filed for relief after the Supreme Court's Miller versus Alabama ruling, asking his original sentence by vacated and he be resentenced on a third-degree murder charge. A court decision has not be made in Hollinger's case.

Hollinger, currently an inmate at the Coal Township State Correctional Institution in Northumberland County, was sentenced for the May 8, 1987, murder of Albert Swalm.

The 57-year-old Union Township man was shot twice with a .44-caliber that Hollinger and his younger brother, Tracy B. Hollinger, had stolen from a nearby home. Swalm was shot while he sat drinking coffee in the kitchen of his Green Point home.

The Hollinger brothers stole Swalm's car but were apprehended near Suedberg in Pine Grove Township after a police chase.

Tracey Hollinger was sentenced on Nov. 25, 1987 to 12 to 60 years after pleading guilty to third-degree murder and other charges. The younger Hollinger brother was 14 at the time of the murder. He was paroled from prison on June 26, 2001, according to court records.

Judge Bradford H. Charles was an assistant district attorney at the time and prosecuted the case.

When he was 17 years old, Whitman was sentenced to life imprisonment on Nov. 29, 1989, for the murder of 9-year-old Clinton Phillippy. Whitman is currently an inmate at Forest State Correctional Institution in northwest Pennsylvania.

Whitman pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Nov. 9, 1989, to first-degree murder, rape and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse in exchange for the district attorney agreeing not to seek the death penalty against him.

Phillippy was raped and struck and killed by a rock on Jan. 30, 1989. Police looked for the boy after his parents reported that he failed to return home from the library. They found his body the next day hidden beneath a discarded Christmas tree behind a store in the first block of North Ninth Street in Lebanon.

Whitman was 16 when he killed Phillippy.

President Judge John C. Tylwalk, who was chief public defender at the time, represented Whitman. Charles prosecuted the case for the district attorney's office.

Whitman has filed a number of appeals in his case, with all of them being denied. In one decision, Senior Judge Robert J. Eby said the Miller versus Alabama decision could not be retroactively applied to cases decided before 2012.

*This article comes to us through a content-sharing partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF.

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