PAXTON — A 37-year-old serving a 60-year prison term for a murder he committed in Ford County when he was 16 is challenging the constitutionality of his sentence and asking it to be reduced to 40 years.
Anthony Jennings, convicted of first-degree murder in 1998 for fatally shooting Craig Little, recently filed a post-conviction relief petition in Ford County Circuit Court that contends his sentence must be reduced in light of a recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling.
In April, the supreme court upheld an appellate court’s decision to vacate a 50-year prison sentence imposed on a 16-year-old boy who killed a 25-year-old woman in Chicago. In reaching its landmark ruling in People v. Buffer, the court concluded that a sentence of more than 40 years in prison imposed on a juvenile offender can be considered a de facto life sentence, in violation of the 8th Amendment.
“Hence, (my) sentence of 60 years must be reduced in light of the language in Buffer making it clear that this new sentencing law is retroactive to those sentenced prior to this new announcement,” Jennings wrote in his petition to the court.
Jennings appeared Tuesday in Ford County Circuit Court in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. During the hearing, Judge Matt Fitton ruled that Jennings had met the statutory requirements to move to the second stage of the post-conviction relief process. Fitton also appointed an attorney from the Illinois Appellate Public Defender’s Office to represent Jennings, and a status hearing was set for Nov. 1.
State’s Attorney Andrew Killian did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Currently housed at the Danville Correctional Center, Jennings is projected to be eligible for parole in February 2028 — at age 46 — after serving 30 years of his 60-year term. If his sentence ends up being reduced to 40 years as requested, Jennings would be immediately eligible for parole.
This was the second post-conviction relief petition that Jennings has filed since being sentenced to prison in August 1998 after pleading guilty to first-degree murder. The last one, filed in 2000, alleged that he received ineffective assistance from his court-appointed public defender, whom he claimed ignored his request to file a motion to reconsider his sentence and a notice of appeal. The petition ended up being denied.
Besides Jennings, also convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the premeditated killing of Mr. Little were two adult codefendants — Mr. Little’s estranged wife, Angela Little, and Carl Dueringer, her then-boyfriend.
The couple arranged for Jennings to kill Mr. Little at his home using a shotgun that Dueringer had obtained from his employer. In return for murdering Mr. Little, they agreed to share Mr. Little’s life insurance proceeds with Jennings.
Angela Little was sentenced to 56 years in prison, while Dueringer received a 50-year prison term.
In an affidavit filed with his most recent post-conviction relief petition, Jennings said that in his youth, “I was not only involved with the wrong people, I had little parental guidance at home.”
Jennings said that since being incarcerated, he has acquired his GED, completed 15 credit hours of college courses and “taken advantage of the prison work force” to obtain skills “that will help me with gainful employment upon release.”