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The Missouri Supreme Court found this week that a prisoner who was 16 when she killed a man during an illegal drug transaction should stay in prison.

The court's ruling addressed the matter of the constitutional validity of a juvenile life sentence without eligibility for parole.

In 1995, Jessica Hicklin was found guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action for shooting and killing a man in Clinton, according to court documents. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Hicklin is transgender and went by her birth name, James, at the time of the killing.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory life sentences for juveniles without the possibility for parole violates the Eighth and 14th amendments. Hicklin then filed a petition for declaratory judgment in Cole County Circuit Court, claiming her sentence was unconstitutional.

In 2016, the Missouri Legislature enacted a bill modifying state statute which permits offenders sentenced to a mandatory life imprisonment without eligibility for parole to seek a sentence review from the parole board after serving 25 years.

That same year, Cole County Judge Dan Green found the Legislature's action rendered Hicklin's unconstitutional claims moot and directed her to file an amended petition. In her amended petition, Hicklin claimed the legislative action did not remedy her sentence. The attorney general filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Green found in favor of the state, and Hicklin appealed.

In its ruling, the Missouri Supreme Court said U.S. Supreme Court precedent gives states two options for fixing mandatory juvenile life-without-parole sentences for juveniles already sentenced: resentence them or give them meaningful opportunity for release after considering certain circumstances, including their youth.

Missouri Department of Corrections officials said Hicklin is scheduled for a parole hearing in July.

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