Life sentence upheld for teen who killed pregnant driver

Kent County
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A man convicted of murdering a pregnant Kent County jail employee when he was a teen will remain behind bars for the rest of his life.

On Wednesday, Kent County Judge Dennis Leiber upheld Stephen Launsburry’s sentenced for the 1993 murder of Kristi Couch. 

Launsburry and another man, Gregory Wines, were trying to get out of Grand Rapids when they flagged down Couch’s car. When they got inside the vehicle, Launsburry pulled out a gun and ordered Couch to follow his directions.

Eventually Launsburry ordered Couch to pull over and get out of the car. He walked her toward a factory building wall where she was shot twice in the back of the head.

Launsburry first told police he shot Couch, but later testified Wines pulled the trigger after he ordered Couch on her hands and knees. Launsburry added that he had agreed to take the blame because he would get a lesser punishment than Wines since he was 16 years old at the time.

Launsburry was initially sentenced to life in prison without parole, but a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2016 forced a judge to reconsider his punishment, since he was younger than 18 at the time of the crime. The Supreme Court said prisoners must benefit from a 2012 ruling that outlawed automatic no-parole sentences, calling them cruel punishment for teens.

Launsburry admitted to planning the robbery with Wines and getting the gun and ammunition used in the murder.

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