(Des Moines) The Iowa Supreme Court allows a woman serving life in prison for first degree murder to challenge the sentence. Ruthann Veal was convicted in May 1995 by a Black Hawk County District Court jury in Waterloo for the June 1993 murder of Catherine Haynes. At the time of the murder Veal was fourteen. She was sixteen when the jury returned its verdict. Under Iowa law a person convicted of first degree murder is to serve life in prison without parole.
In February 2008, Veal began post-conviction relief proceedings. She claimed that under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 17 of the Iowa Constitution a life prison term without parole for a person who was under eighteen when the crime was committed was cruel and unusual punishment. A Black Hawk County District Court Judge and the Iowa Court of Appeals rejected Veal's claims. The district court and Court of Appeals held that under Iowa's post-conviction relief procedure, Veal's challenge was not timely. Post-conviction relief claims are supposed to be brought within three years.
The Iowa Supreme Court holds, based upon its 2009 decision in State v. Bruegger, 773 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 2009) that Veal's claim is the sentence imposed is illegal. Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.24(5)(a)allows a court to correct an illegal sentence at any time.
The case is returned to the Black Hawk County District Court for further proceedings.
The decision is Veal v. State.