Former high school standout argues for early release - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Former high school standout argues for early release on murder sentence

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Bennie Gray Jr. Bennie Gray Jr.
NEW LONDON, CT (WFSB) -

A convicted drug dealer turned murderer is trying to get his sentence shortened based on the fact he was a juvenile when he committed his crimes.

But Bennie Gray Jr. was once a star scholar and high school athlete.

Gray Jr., 34, was 18 in 1997 when he was sentenced to serve 23 years in prison for the shooting death of alleged New London drug dealer DeJohn Strong in an apartment on Michael Street.

"I think everybody should have a second chance," said Bennie Gray Sr.

Gray Jr. has been in prison half his life. When he's eligible for parole it will be December 2019 and he will be 40 years old.

Gray Jr. was a New London Whalers football standout and the president of his junior class in 1996.

In a letter to the court, Gray Jr. explained that in 11th grade he became a father. To support his daughter, he turned to the streets and got involved in drugs.

Based on proposed state legislation and federal court rulings, Gray's attorney, Ralph C. Crozier, asked the court to review the original sentence in hopes of taking six years off his client's sentence because his earlier drug crimes were committed as a juvenile.

"This is the first one to come up in the state," Crozier said.

Crozier said there are 200 similar cases. But Judge Hillary Strachbein ruled Friday that this case is not in her jurisdiction and that Gray Jr. did get a good deal on his sentence.

"What we have here is a victim who is dead," Strachbein said. "You are going to have a whole life ahead of you and the victim will not."

In his 16 years behind bars, his family said that Gray Jr. has won achievements and awards and has been an outstanding prisoner. With new hopes and dreams, Gray Jr. will be eligible for another review in seven months.

"He's hopeful, that's the important thing. He has his family behind him and we'll continue to be here," said Tomica Durham, the cousin of Gray Jr.

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