High court reviews teens’ sentences

One will be returned to Bedford County to face a mandatory sentence of at least 23 years in prison.

By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times – 1/16/2010

Two teenage cousins who robbed a late-night poker game in Bedford County two years ago received vastly different treatment Friday from the Virginia Supreme Court.

Demetrious Omar Brown was 16 and Dwayne Jamar Brown was 15 when they armed themselves with pistols, donned masks, burst into an apartment where a card game was in progress and demanded all the cash on the table.

The two teens were tried and convicted as adults. But Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James Updike decided to sentence them as juveniles on some of the charges — in particular, firearm offenses that would have carried mandatory prison time had they been treated as adults.

Prosecutors appealed Updike’s decision, and on Friday the Supreme Court reached different decisions for the two defendants.

Dwayne Brown, who was ordered by Updike to remain in a juvenile correctional center until he was 18 and then serve 24 months in jail, was allowed to keep his relatively light punishment because prosecutors failed to object to the judge’s decision at the time, a divided Supreme Court held.

But because prosecutors did object during a separate sentencing for Demetrious Brown, the high court reversed his sentence, which was to remain in a juvenile correctional center until his 20th birthday.

Demetrious Brown will now be returned to Bedford County for a new sentencing, and will face a mandatory sentence of at least 23 years in prison.

“That’s a tremendous disparity between two cousins who basically did the same thing; one will be free early this decade, while the other will be in prison for roughly another two decades,” appellate court analyst Steven Emmert wrote on his Web site.

The Supreme Court’s decision did not affect charges of robbery against the teens, for which they were sentenced as adults to suspended time.