Bill Montgomery

Bill Montgomery Works to Free Prisoner Ray Chatman, Who Killed Man in 1970

Ray Chatman has been behind bars since 1970, when he was convicted of killing a Circle K clerk in a robbery at age 17.

He was supposed to spend the rest of his life in prison, but he'll soon get out because of efforts by prosecutors at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, who determined he was eligible for release.

Chatman's 62 now. He and accomplice Melvin Lee Taylor left clerk Kenneth Meiner to die after a shootout during the robbery on March 7, 1970. The two robbers were sentenced to death, but won an appeal in 1973 that reduced their sentences to life without parole. Taylor, however, applied for a commutation of his sentence and was released in 1987 after Governor Bruce Babbitt granted him the request. Chatman apparently never applied for commutation, according to a news release by County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Recently, though, Chatman filed a motion in court for post-conviction relief, and prosecutors soon figured out he didn't have to be in prison any longer. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juvenile offenders weren't subject to mandatory sentencing of life without parole. That meant Chatman could apply to be re-sentenced.

Today, the deal was approved by Superior Court Judge Bruce Cohen, who allowed Chatman to plea to second-degree murder. The agreement called for Chatman's sentence to be complete upon approval of the plea deal -- which means Chatman should be walking out of prison any time now. And into a strange new world.

Here's to hoping he finds peace -- and, as in the Stephen King book -- hope.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern