back-to-back life sentences

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Back-to-back life sentences refers to the imposition upon a defendant of two or more consecutive life terms. A one-life sentence imposes an obligation on a defendant to serve 15 to 25 years in prison until the eligibility of parole. The sentence depends on the gravity of the crime and on the jurisdiction in which the defendant is tried. Parole is usually granted to individuals who have displayed good behavior. However, the possibility of parole does not guarantee release. 

Back-to-back life sentences arise when there are two or more crimes committed by the defendant. The combination of multiple sentences would lead to an increase of years until a defendant is eligible for parole. One of the main purposes of back-to-back life sentences is also to limit the eligibility of defendants to parole, increasing the number of years they must serve.

Some cases involving the imposition of back-to-back life sentences include: 

  • Terry Nichols is serving 161 life sentences and 9,3000 years without parole for first degree murder, arson, terrorism, and manslaughter for his role in the Oklahoma City Bombing
  • Michael J Devlin: serving 74 life sentences for multiple counts of kidnapping, armed criminal action, forced sodomy, child pornography, attempted murder, etc. 
  • Gary Ridgway, also known as the “Green River Killer” is serving 48 life sentences for having murdered women between 1982 and 1998. Ridgeway claims to have murdered up to 80 women, but pled guilty to 48 murders, being the most prolific serial killer in US history.

See: Gmerek v. State, 781 S.W.2d 575 (Mo. Ct. App. 1989)

See also: life without possibility of parole; Consecutive sentence; Concurrent sentence

[Last updated in December of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]