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Juvenile Murderer Resentenced to At Least 40 Years in 1981 Case

June 19, 2018

Contact: Monica W. Furber, 215.348.6297, mwfurber@buckscounty.org

Dennis Flanagan
     Dennis Flanagan

Dennis Flanagan, twice convicted and sentenced to life for his involvement at age 17 in a 1981 murder in Bensalem, was resentenced Friday to serve 40 years to life in state prison.

Now 54, the Lower Southampton man has been in prison since shortly after the beating, stabbing and strangulation death of 26-year-old James Redman in a deserted industrial park on July 1, 1981.

Flanagan became the fourth of six inmates from Bucks County serving mandatory life sentences for murders committed as juveniles to be resentenced over the past year by Common Pleas Court Judge Rea B. Boylan.

Similar proceedings are being held throughout Pennsylvania as a result of recent federal and state appellate court decisions. Those decisions declared mandatory life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional, requiring new hearings to reconsider those sentences.

Although Flanagan already has served 37 years, the new sentence will keep him imprisoned for at least three more years before he is eligible for parole consideration.

Boylan said that although Flanagan has had no prison misconducts since 1999, and no “significant” infractions before that, she remains troubled by the various versions he has given over the years about his involvement in the murder.

“It is not clear to me exactly what he is taking responsibility for,” the judge said.  

Flanagan’s accomplice, George Yacob, is serving a life sentence. Yacob, who was 19 at the time of the murder, has acknowledged inflicting the injuries that killed Redman.

But because Flanagan was at the scene, and had conspired with Yacob to rob Redman, whom they perceived to be gay, he was culpable for the murder as well.

After being ordered to stand trial as an adult, Flanagan pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 1981 and was sentenced to life. Back then, Flanagan maintained that he and Yacob lured Redman, a part-time church organist, to the industrial park with the lure of having a sexual encounter with Flanagan.

Once there, Flanagan told police, Yacob began taunting and assaulting Redman, took his wallet and car keys, and ordered Flanagan to drive the car to the front of the park. After 20 minutes, Flanagan said, he returned to have Yacob tell him that he had kicked, choked and dropped a rock on Redman’s head, and that the victim was dead or near death.

The two left in Redman’s car, taking it for an excursion with several young women to the Jersey Shore. They were arrested several days later, after Redman’s decomposed body was found hidden under debris.

Flanagan’s conviction was overturned in 2004 by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which ruled that he lacked an adequate understanding of the law when he pleaded guilty and that there was an insufficient factual basis given to support his plea.

He was tried before a jury in 2005, convicted of second-degree murder and again sentenced to life. At trial, Flanagan portrayed himself as an unwitting bystander who helped Yacob hide the body out of fear that Yacob might kill him as well. Yacob testified that Flanagan was innocent.

Last week’s hearing was necessitated by an additional series of appellate decisions pertaining to all so-called “juvenile lifers” in the United States.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

In 2016, the Supreme Court further held in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its findings in Miller v. Alabama should apply retroactively. That decision meant more than 2,000 juvenile lifers nationwide would have to be re-sentenced.

In June 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in Pennsylvania v. Batts that there is a presumption against imposing a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender. The ruling placed the burden on the Commonwealth to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile offender is incapable of being rehabilitated before he or she can receive a life sentence.

Boylan said Friday that Flanagan “was an active participant in a murder committed in the course of a robbery,” calling it “the most heinous of offenses.”

Despite Flangan’s limited participation in the killing, Boylan said she questions whether he can be fully rehabilitated until he comes to terms with exactly what he did and did not do.

In victim impact statements read in court, Redman’s cousin and sister made clear that they and their families were, and remain, greatly affected by the murder.

The murder “today would probably be considered a hate crime, due to the fact that the perpetrators believed [Redman] to be gay …,” wrote his cousin, Marilyn Todd, who called on Flanagan to repent. “I don’t know if, after 37 years in prison, Mr. Flanagan has any remorse or is sorry for what he did. I hope he does … I will be praying for Mr. Flanagan.”

Redman “had just moved into a new condo, had been promoted to manager at his place of employment, and was the organist for two churches on weekends,” wrote his sister, Janet Redman Scatchard. “He was talented, bright, always willing to help others, and had really just begun to live his life.”

She wrote that her parents’ lives “were ruined beyond repair” by Redman’s murder, with her mother having to be admitted to a mental health unit to cope with the loss.

“I have lived without my brother for 36 years,” she wrote. “We both started life on our own about the same time. I never got to share that with him. Being my only sibling, he couldn’t be there when I needed help with our parents, reassurance, or advice.”

The resentencing was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Monica W. Furber.

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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