Joe Sullivan featured on PBS Second Chances:
Joe Sullivan, now 39 and confined to a wheelchair, was sentenced to die in prison for an offense that happened when he was 13. A severely mentally disabled boy, Joe was blamed by two older boys for a sexual battery that was allegedly committed when they broke into a home together.
Both of the older boys received short sentences, but Joe was tried as an adult, convicted of sexual battery, and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The lawyer who represented Joe in his one-day trial has since been suspended from the practice of law, and the biological evidence that could have exonerated Joe was destroyed in 1993.
EJI took on Joe's case as part of a national litigation project to challenge death-in-prison sentences imposed on young adolescents. EJI petitioned the Florida state courts to strike down Joe's sentence, but the state courts dismissed Joe's case. EJI appealed Joe’s case to the United States Supreme Court, and Joe’s sentence was vacated as unconstitutional when the Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that children cannot be sentenced to die in prison for nonhomicide offenses.