Appeals Court Rules Salisbury Convict’s Life Sentence Illegal

SALISBURY — A Salisbury man, sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the brutal carjacking and murder of a woman in Wicomico County in 2009, will get a second chance after a state appeals court asserted his sentence was illegal based on a Supreme Court ruling handed down years later.

In 2009, Kenneth Benjamin Alvira, now 23, of Salisbury, was found guilty of first-degree murder, armed carjacking, armed robbery and other offenses for his role in the brutal slaying of a woman left for dead on a rural road in Wicomico County. Alvira and two others, both 19 years old, carjacked a woman, stabbed her and dumped her in a field, according to court documents. The victim, although alive when found, died soon thereafter. At trial, an acquaintance of Alvira testified Alvira admitted to him he killed the victim with a knife and then left her along a dark road.

In 2009, a Wicomico County jury found Alvira guilty of first-degree murder and other charges and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 30 years for the armed carjacking to be served consecutively. However, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a separate case a sentence of life without the possibility of parole was not appropriate for juveniles under the age of 18 in most cases.

Alvira quickly filed a motion for reconsideration of sentence, asserting his life without parole sentence was unconstitutional. His motion was denied at the Circuit Court level, but the state’s Court of Special Appeals this week ruled in favor of the defendant and remanded Alvira’s case back to Circuit Court for a new sentencing hearing.

“Alvira was 16 years old when the crimes were committed,” the opinion reads. “Three years after he was sentenced, the U.S. Supreme Court held that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the eighth amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. Although the Supreme Court did not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to impose a life sentence without parole in homicide cases, the Supreme Court stated that the sentence must take into account how children are different than adults and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

In 2015, Alvira filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence in which he asserted that his sentence of life without parole was unconstitutional because the sentencing court had not considered his youth.

“The Circuit Court summarily denied the motion without a hearing or an explanation, an order which Alvira appeals,” the opinion reads. “For the reasons discussed, we reverse. The state agrees with Alvira that his sentence to life without parole should be vacated and this case remanded for re-sentencing.”

The Court of Special Appeals opined Alvira’s age at the time of the heinous crime was not given full consideration at sentencing.

“Although the sentencing judge acknowledged Alvira’s age in imposing sentence, and he stated that he did not see any hope of rehabilitation, the record does not reflect that Alvira’s youth and prospect for rehabilitation were addressed in any significant manner by either the state or the defense, much less by the sentencing judge,” the opinion reads. “Accordingly, we hold that the Circuit Court erred in denying Alvira’s motion to correct an illegal sentence because it appears that the sentencing court failed to consider whether Alvira was one of those rare juvenile offenders whose crime reflects irreparable corruption warranting a sentence of life without parole or whether his crimes reflected the transient immaturity of youth.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.