A former Coudersport man imprisoned for the brutal, premeditated murder of Samuel Miller in 2011 is seeking a lesser sentence, saying he was too young at the time of the murder to have been sent away for life.
Jonothan Prather, now 24, filed a Post Conviction Relief Act petition in Potter County Court, which was denied by President Judge Stephen Minor. Prather has since filed an appeal to the state Superior Court.
Prather was 19 at the time he and two others — Avery Buckingham, 26, and Kaylynn Benson, 16 — lured Miller, 18, into the woods near Prouty Park in southern Potter County under the auspices of spotting deer. Prather then shot Miller multiple times in the head and torso, reloaded his rifle and shot him twice more. Buckingham helped Prather deposit Miller’s body in Prouty Creek while Benson held a flashlight for them. Benson then hid the murder weapon in the attic of her father’s home.
In Prather’s petition, he alleged that because he was 19 — an adolescent — at the time of the murder, “the automatic mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole” was unconstitutional.
In the PCRA petition, Prather sought a new trial, correction of sentence, or an “evidentiary hearing to establish a complete record … which may lead to a lesser degree of murder and/or manslaughter.”
In a memorandum of law supporting his argument, Prather, without legal representation, claimed the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miller v. Alabama applied to his case. That decision struck down life without parole sentences for defendants under the age of 18 when the crime was committed. While Prather was 19 when he murdered Miller, he claimed in the petition that he was still an adolescent with a “less culpable mindset, due to psychosocial immaturity development issues.” Quoting a study on ages of maturity, he indicated adolescents’ brains don’t fully develop until the age of 25, the memorandum read.
His argument was rejected by Minor in a ruling March 28.
Minor noted the Supreme Court cases cited by Prather apply only to defendants who were under the age of 18 at the time the crime was committed. Because Prather was 19, the precedents in the cases do not apply.
Prather has now filed an appeal of that decision to the state Superior Court.
Buckingham is serving 40 to 80 years in prison for his part in the crimes, while Benson — who was charged as an adult — is serving 10 to 20 years.