The Grand Rapids Press has a front page story today about Saulo Montalvo, a 32 year old serving life in prison for being a 16 year old getaway driver for a robbery that ended in murder. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision that life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional may finally grant Saulo his release.
I saw Saulo Sunday night at his Muskegon prison. He was leading the praise band at the weekly Sunday night service—this one included 13 baptisms, 15 testimonies, and an abbreviated sermon (because the prisoners had a lot of joy to share). I spoke to the warden about Saulo, and she agreed that he is a special leader who would serve society well by his release. No one, not even Saulo, suggests that he deserves his release, but everyone thinks there is no compelling reason to keep him behind bars. If you could meet him, I’m sure you’d agree.
Saulo is an active member of Prison Fellowship’s TUMI program, so he is an enduring legacy of Chuck Colson’s ministry. Chuck met Saulo when he spoke at the Muskegon prison a few years ago, and I’m guessing that this morning a happy and hopeful Chuck has gathered a few friends from the church triumphant to pray for Saulo. So will I.
I’m not sure how to link to the GR Press article, so I’ll paste it below.
As the 16-year-old getaway driver in a robbery-turned-murder, Saulo Montalvo — now serving life in prison without parole— had reason for hope on Monday.
The U.S. SupremeC ourt said such sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.
“There was a buzz over at the prison,” a supporter, Janae Dean, said after talking to him by phone.
“We’re hopeful that this could possibly give him a chance,” she said.
“We’re just really hopeful. I guess that would be the word. Hopefully, to get another opportunity to show that he is sorry, and will do what’s right. He really wants to give back. He’s got a servant’s heart, even in prison.”
Dean, who taught Montalvo at Potter’s House Christian School, has worked to get his sentence commuted.
“It’s just time for him to get out.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, said that sentencing juveniles to mandatory sentences of life without parole is an unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment when no judicial discretion is allowed.
In Michigan, those ages 14 to 17 can be automatically tried as adults for certain serious crimes, including murder.
Dean runs a children’s theater troupe, “Children’s Creations.” Her husband, Wayburn Dean, is a popular Christian music recording artist. She re-connected with her former student during a prison performance.
Dean said Montalvo was a good kid, liked by everyone, but a follower. In prison, he has become a leader, a spiritual and “sincere, honest person” who has sought forgiveness of the victim’s family while accepting responsibility for his crime, she said.
Now, he is like a son to the couple, she said.
They visit Montalvo regularly at Ernest Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon County, and helped his effort to become an ordained minister. They are close to his wife, the former Laura Rodenburg, his longtime sweetheart.
Montalvo, 32, has spent half of his life in prison.
He was the getaway driver in a 1996 holdup that led to Rodney Corp’s killing. Montalvo drove Christopher Peltier and Robert Maze, both 15, to the former Westside Beer Kooler at 854 Alpine Ave. NW.
Maze shot and killed Corp, 61, while Peltier grabbed the money, court records said. Montalvo heard the shots from the car.
Maze got most of the money because he had the gun. Montalvo got only a few dollars.
The three received mandatory life terms.
Court transcripts showed that former Kent County Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda said Montalvo’s case should be reviewed in 25 years.
Dean said he has done enough time. She said that most of Corp’s family members didn’t want him to serve a life sentence and support his early release.
She said that Montalvo has accepted responsibility, and doesn’t try to rationalize his actions or downplay his role.
Montalvo, in an interview last year, said: “I’ve wasted so much of my life already. But if I had to make a choice, I’d choose forgiveness from Mr. Corp’s family over getting out of prison.”
He has accepted that he might have to spend the rest of his life in prison. He doesn’t want to get his hopes too high, and told Dean that he doesn’t want to hurt his family or Corp’s family further.
Dean thinks he deserves a second chance because of his age at the time of the crime. He was a follower then.
“They’re so fragile (at that age). Saulo was in a fragile time of his life and made a terrible mistake.”
She said Montalvo wakes every day to the thought of Corp and his family.
“He lives every day for Mr. Corp. You have to do your best, to give back to Mr. Corp. Obey the rules, be kind, be respectful. I think Saulo Montalvo has the peace of having a friend in Christ. He lives his life for God every day. He wants to give back to his family and the Corp family.
“He never forgets about Mr. Corp, and he never will. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He knows he did something terrible. Now, he’s a changed man. He is definitely a leader, not a follower.”
She said she didn’t know if he would be released, but at least she thinks there is a chance now.
“I know I’ve been praying for a miracle,” she said.
“Maybe this is our miracle.”