ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A convicted killer’s sentence is cut in half after a Capital Region judge makes a very rare decision that could have implications on other violent cases involving young offenders.
In 2011, 16 year old Jah-Lah Vanderhorst was captured on cellphone video stabbing 17 year old Tyler Rhodes in the chest. The young track star’s pierced heart gave out while running after his assailant. Vanderhorst was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012.
The now 24 year old was back in court today asking Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch to retroactively grant him Youthful Offender status. Something he said he was denied when he was 16. If it had been granted, he would have been released and his record sealed.
Last Friday Vanderhorst read a letter of apology to his victim’s family saying in part. “I would love to show you that I am not the monster that I was portrayed in April 30th, 2011.”
Today, Justice Lynch denied the defendant’s request for the Youthful Offender status, but did say Vanderhorst’s age in 2011 should have been a serious consideration for prosecutors.
Lynch said he felt Vanderhorst showed true remorse. And in an unprecedented move he reduced the original sentence from 25 years to 12 and a half years. That means, with time served Vanderhorst could be released within 3 years. His smiling supporters in the courtroom seemed uplifted by the news, but even his defense attorney admitted he was surprised. “Listen, I was surprised by the judge’s sentence today as probably everyone was.” said attorney Thomas Gabriels.
Tyler Rhodes’s mom had previously begged the judge for justice by keeping Vanderhorst behind bars. News10’s Anya Tucker asked Stacey Rhodes-Sofer if she felt her son received that today. She sighed deeply and replied “No.” before tearing up and walking out of the District Attorney’s office with her family.
Prosecutors say, even in prison Vanderhorst has continued his violent ways: 12 violations, 5 of them violent offenses.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares says Justice Lynch was basically overriding 3 previous judge’s decisions and an appeals court ruling. Soares says his office is now filing an appeal.