A Life Sentence Cut Short Sparks a Lifetime of Service

Nicole Mistretta

@MistrettaNicole

photos courtesy of Andrew Hundley

Andrew Hundley escaped his life sentence.

A few seconds, a blind rage and a burned body sent Hundley to prison for life at the age of 15. Nineteen years into his sentence, a Supreme Court ruling gave Hundley a second chance outside prison bars.

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that juvenile murderers cannot be given mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. Hundley said by that time, he had come to terms with dying in prison because he was guilty of the crime committed that night.

It was July 23, 1997, a summer night between 15-year-old Hundley’s sophomore and junior year of high school. Hundley and some friends picked up Terry Pitre, a girl he did not know, to have some fun. The group smoked marijuana laced with PCP, something Hundley experienced for the first time. Later that night, the group dispersed, leaving Hundley alone with Pitre. After a failed attempt at flirting, Pitre called Hundley a name which incited a rage he had “never felt before” and “didn’t know how to handle.” Hundley stopped walking while Pitre continued ahead. Within a matter of seconds, Hundley grabbed a nearby piece of metal and hit Pitre in the head from behind five times, striking her dead.

Hundley left Pitre lying on the ground and returned later to confirm whether she was dead. She was. Upon returning a third time, to hide his connection to the crime, he set Pitre’s body on fire and left the scene for good.

Hundley said, “I didn’t realize [at the time] I was making things worse. I was just trying to cover up what I did.”

The body was found the next morning and Hundley confessed. Hundley said when he confessed to the crime his father was in the room. He explained the hesitation he felt at 15 years old to admit to drug use. “I didn’t even think through that they would ask, ‘well why did you do this?’ Even though I could confess in front of my dad that I committed murder, I didn’t confess to the drugs. I didn’t want them to know.”

Hundley said he remembered being scared during the trial process but admitted to only “thinking of himself” and wanted to “blame others” for his actions. Hundley said he refused to take full responsibility for his actions at the time.

The court dealt Hundley a life sentence without possibility of parole. He said as a “young and naïve” 15-year-old, he did not know what his sentence truly meant. “I thought, they don’t send kids to prison. I’m going to get out. Somehow this is going to be undone,” Hundley said.

Only upon his arrival to David Wade Correctional Center, a Louisiana state prison, did Hundley realize he would not be going anywhere anytime soon. He described the day as a “rude awakening” and said he felt scared of the unknown and of dying in prison. Little did he know, he would not die behind bars.

Almost 19 years into his sentence and after the Supreme Court ruling, Hundley attempted to earn his freedom in a parole hearing. Hundley credited his lawyer, Keith Nordyke, with his successful parole hearing. According to Hundley, Nordyke convinced the board that he was a changed man from the boy who committed the crime in 1997.

Nordyke, a lawyer and professor at LSU Law Center, said he considered Hundley a “very, very good candidate” for release.

The Louisiana Parole Board granted Hundley parole over the concerns of Pitre’s family who opposed his release after considering Hundley’s record of rehabilitation and reentry plan.

Hundley said although Pitre’s family did not want him released, it “meant a lot” to him that he had the opportunity to finally apologize to them. He did not apologize at the original trial and was prohibited from contacting them after his conviction.

“I am reminded every day that I took someone’s life. I am reminded that even though I am able to rebuild my life, Terry will never do the same,” Hundley said.

Hundley’s journey did not end with his parole. According to Nordyke, about a month and a half after Hundley’s release, Nordyke and LSU Law professor Robert Lancaster asked Hundley to help them create the Louisiana Parole Project. Nordyke and Lancaster thought released inmates would need “some kind of orientation back into society.” Nordyke said they chose Hundley because they felt a comfort level with him, and he was the only juvenile lifer out at the time.

“We thought it would be something great. Everybody hit the ground running,” said Nordyke.

The Parole Project program teaches inmates who served 20 years or more in prison how to reassimilate into society by helping them “understand social norms, be active in the community and succeed.”

The program also gives priority to inmates sentenced to life in prison as juveniles before the rule change. Since Louisiana Parole Project began, 113 people have gone through the program and none have committed new crimes or gone back to prison. Only five of the 91 released inmates in the program have been female but Hundley said they hope to reach out to more females in the future.

Nordyke said his cases from the parole clinic at the LSU Law Center “almost universally” go to the Parole Project. According to Nordyke, 95% or better of his private practice cases also go to the Parole Project.

The Parole Project also houses released inmates while they get back on their feet. According to Hundley, they recently purchased two additional houses, bringing the total to five.

“This expansion allows us to provide more housing opportunities to clients,” said Hundley.

While Hundley said the program will not expand into other states, he remains open to sharing information with others who want to start a similar program. Hundley said, “There is enough for me to do in Louisiana.”

Hundley with Louisiana Parole Project clients

Hundley credited his survival and good behavior in prison to his mentors who were also serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were juveniles. Six months into his sentence, Hundley hit a turning point. He felt sickened by fellow prisoners who continued to blame others and claimed innocence for their crimes. At that moment, Hundley decided he did not want to be a person who was “unremorseful and unable to take responsibility.”

Hundley said he began to do things that offered a better quality of life in prison. He completed high school and involved himself in multiple organizations around the prison, some of which offered leadership opportunities.

“It’s [Prison] not a good place to put children. I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 25 to 30 years and I have represented a number of juveniles. Usually nothing good happens to them in prison,” Nordyke said.

Hundley, now 38, grew up in a two-parent middleclass household. He was an athlete and considered himself a good student. Underneath it all, Hundley said, he was “in a bad place” and a change in friends introduced him to drugs which he refuses to use as an excuse for his actions. Hundley graduated from Louisiana State University with a sociology degree in May 2019 and is currently working toward a master’s degree in criminology at Loyola. He hopes to graduate in 2021.

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