Anthony Jennings

Anthony Jennings is escorted out of the Ford County Courthouse on Friday following a brief hearing.

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PAXTON — A public defender was appointed Friday to represent convicted murderer Anthony Jennings in his attempt to have his 60-year prison sentence reduced to 40 years.

During a brief hearing in Ford County Circuit Court, Judge Matt Fitton appointed Harvey Welch to represent the 38-year-old, who appeared in court in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Fitton had previously appointed an attorney from the Illinois Appellate Public Defender’s Office to represent Jennings, but that office declined to represent him.

Fitton asked Welch to either adopt the post-conviction relief petition that Jennings filed in court earlier this year or to file a new petition on Jennings’ behalf. Upon the suggestion of State’s Attorney Andrew Killian, Fitton asked that Welch do so by Dec. 1, allowing Killian to file an answer within the following three weeks.

Arguments will be considered during a status hearing scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Jan. 3.

In his post-conviction relief petition, Jennings, who is serving a 60-year prison term for fatally shooting Craig Little in 1998 in Ford County when Jennings was 16 years old, 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.

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 is 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 Welch, 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.