A prison inmate was given immediate eligibility for parole from what was previously a life sentence for the killing of a Lancaster store clerk in 1996.
Clarence Laudenberger, now 38, was convicted of second-degree murder and in 1997 sentenced to life in prison for the May 1996 robbery that ended in the shooting death of clerk Michael Heath.
At a re-sentencing hearing Wednesday, Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker ordered Laudenberger serve 21 years to life in prison.
Since Laudenberger has already served over 21 years in prison, he is expected to have a parole hearing and likely be released shortly after that.
On May 23, 1996, Laudenberger and three others targeted the former Uni-Mart at Duke and Liberty streets for a robbery. Laudenberger agreed to the robbery plot and served as a lookout.
Aramis Gonzalez III, then 16, asked Heath for money, then counted down from three before fatally shooting Heath.
Rodney Lee Walton and Anthony Lewis also were convicted in the case. Each were sentenced to 25 years to life last week, meaning they must serve about four more years before parole hearings.
A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed life sentences against juveniles “unconstitutional” prompted the resentencing of Laudenberger – and 11 other inmates serving life terms for killings they committed as juveniles in Lancaster County.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has provided guidelines, which in Laudenberger’s case, call for a minimum 30-year prison term.
Assistant District Attorney Ande Gonzalez asked President Judge Reinaker to order that 30-year minimum, stressing the crime’s devastation on Heath’s surviving family and the community.
Gonzalez noted, however, that the co-defendants received 25 years to life, and requested President Judge Reinaker at least impose the same sentence on Laudenberger.
“For cases exactly like this one, the law recommends a minimum sentence of 30 years to life,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said after the hearing. “This sentence was not only below the minimum, like the others [Walton and Lewis], but it is not even close.”
Gonzalez also asked President Judge Reinaker to consider sentences he ordered for the co-defendants, who had similar roles in the crime.
President Judge Reinaker pointed to Laudenberger’s “personal growth” and “greater rehabilitation” than the co-defendants who received longer sentences.
“No amount of good behavior will ever diminish the gravity of the fact that Michael Heath was murdered, his life ended by criminal choices, and that he died on the phone begging for help with his blood all over the store,” Stedman said. “He received a death sentence with no chance for reduction based on good behavior.”
Sherry Heath, Michael’s widow, read a statement to Laudenberger and the judge, opposing parole for Laudenberger.
Gonzalez played a recording of the 911 call Michael Heath made as he was mortally wounded. On the recording, Heath is heard pleading for help and gasping.
President Judge Reinaker has said he must consider amenability to treatment and likelihood to become law-abiding members of society when ordering sentences, as outlined by the higher courts.
“I can tell you that Mr. Heath’s widow absolutely feels like she is being re-victimized by the system - because she is,” Stedman said. “It should not be this way. The sentence is what it is and yet another convicted murderer will be in the community very soon.”
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