A Rock Island County judge has reserved ruling on prosecutors’ request to deny a petition that seeks a new sentencing hearing for Cory Gregory, convicted in the 2005 death of 16-year-old Adrianne Reynolds.
Gregory, now 30, was 17 when he and co-defendant Sarah Kolb strangled Reynolds while in a parked car at a Moline restaurant.
He pleaded guilty in April 2006 and was sentenced to 45 years in prison — 40 years for the murder and five years for concealing the homicide – in July 2006.
He must serve at least 42.5 years of the sentence before he can be released. Gregory is scheduled to be paroled in July 2047, a few months shy of his 60th birthday.
Kolb, now 30, was convicted of murder and concealment charges and was sentenced to 48 years for murdering her teenage classmate and five years for concealing the homicide.
Gregory previously has argued his sentence was excessive because he had no prior violent-crime convictions and had ineffective counsel.
Gregory, through attorney Nate Nieman, filed a petition for successive post-conviction relief in March 2017.
In a post-conviction relief proceeding, a defendant argues that constitutional errors were made at the trial court level and on appeal.
Nieman argued at an hour-long hearing Thursday at the Rock Island County Justice Center that Gregory’s 45-year sentence is unconstitutional because it is essentially a “de facto” life sentence. He further argued that the sentence also violates the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution that requires that sentences should be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring an offender to useful citizenship.
“If he’s serving a sentence that will likely exceed his lifetime, then he has no opportunity to restore himself to useful citizenship and therefore, the sentence is not given in the spirit of the state constitution,” Nieman said.
He also pointed to rulings from the Supreme Court and legislative changes that direct sentencing judges to consider a number of factors when sentencing juvenile offenders. Some of those factors include the offender’s age and maturity at the time of the offense; the offender’s ability to consider risks and consequences; and peer and outside influence.
At the time Gregory was sentenced, those factors were not “at all in our legal lexicon,” Nieman said.
“It was not something that any sentencing judge was thinking about,” he argued. “They were thinking about the adult sentencing factors in aggravation and mitigation. They weren’t thinking about things that the legislatures and the Supreme Court has now directed juvenile sentencing courts to do.”
The only remedy, he argued, was to grant Gregory a new sentencing hearing.
Rock Island County Assistant State’s Attorney Alex Geocaris argued that the petition for a new sentencing hearing should be dismissed because Gregory was not sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison without parole nor a de facto life sentence without parole and thus his sentence should stand.
He pointed to the fact that Gregory’s plea agreement included a cap of 40 years on the homicide charge and a cap of five years on the concealment charge.
The sentence for first-degree murder ranges from 20 to 60 years in prison.
Geocaris also argued that the judge who sentenced Gregory in 2006 properly considered all the factors in mitigation and aggravation – including Gregory’s lack of a criminal history and the nature of the crime — when he handed down the 45-year sentence.
Judge Peter Church gave attorneys 14 days to file additional case law and arguments before he makes his ruling on whether to grant prosecutors’ motion to dismiss the petition.
If the judge denies the motion to dismiss Gregory's petition, then the case will proceed to the next stage where attorneys essentially will rehash the issues argued Thursday.
If the judge ultimately grants Gregory's request for a new sentencing hearing, there is no guarantee that he will get a shorter sentence, Nieman said after Thursday's hearing.
"He could potentially get the same sentence that he received before," Nieman said. "It would be many hoops to jump through ultimately to get his sentence reduced, but that's just the procedures that we have to go through at this point."
Gregory, who did not attend Thursday's hearing, is serving his sentence at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections' website.
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