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N.D. Supreme Court to consider reducing life sentence for convicted teen killer of West Fargo woman

Steven Mottinger represents Barry Garcia during his sentencing hearing July 2, 1996, for the murder of Cherryl Tendeland. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

The North Dakota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday, March 26, as part of an appeal brought by Barry Garcia, who is seeking a reduction of his life sentence in the 1995 killing of Cherryl Tendeland of West Fargo.

Garcia was sentenced in 1996 in Cass County District Court to life in prison without parole for shooting Tendeland while she sat in a parked car.

Garcia was 16 at the time of the crime.

Over time, Garcia has appealed his life sentence on several fronts.

In one action, Garcia's attorneys cited a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found that mandatory sentences of life without parole for child criminals are unconstitutional and that the ruling could apply retroactively to cases.

Garcia's lawyers maintained the U.S. Supreme Court opinion should apply in Garcia's case, even though his sentence was discretionary and not mandatory.

In that appeal, a Cass County District Court judge ruled in 2017 that Garcia's sentence should stand.

The ruling was appealed to the North Dakota State Supreme Court, which upheld the district court ruling.

On a separate front, Garcia's attorneys argued that Garcia deserves sentencing relief consistent with a state law that was passed in 2017.

That law says people who are convicted as an adult for a crime they committed before they were 18 may seek a sentence reduction if they have served at least 20 years, the court determines they are not a danger to others and the interests of justice warrant a reduction.

Prosecutors argued the new law doesn't apply to Garcia's case, and in late 2017, the state Supreme Court denied Garcia's appeal on that front, stating the change in North Dakota law came after Garcia's petition for post-conviction relief.

The Supreme Court also said it would not consider issues that were not raised at the district court level.

The oral arguments hearing set for March 26 is part of an effort by the defense to convince the Supreme Court to reconsider its earlier decision.

Court papers filed by Garcia's attorneys describe Garcia's request as a modest one.

"It is simply to be afforded an opportunity to make his case that he has been rehabilitated and that the interests of justice warrant relief," the court papers state.