Norman Bryant was just 15 on Jan. 29, 1985, when he joined older brother Kenneth and a 14-year-old friend in a burglary of what they believed was an empty house in West Philadelphia.

Only it wasn't empty.

When Kenneth Bryant went upstairs, he found himself face to face with the occupant, Gertrude Jones, 82. He shoved her, then went back downstairs, never mentioning the run-in to the others. However, when Jones died that day of a heart attack, it made the crime a murder, which carries a life sentence.

On Thursday, after 32 years in prison, Norman Bryant, now a devout, bearded Muslim in a white skullcap and tunic, received a new sentence: 30 years to life in prison, making him eligible for parole.

The resentencing followed a pair of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, one ruling that automatic life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for juveniles and the other requiring states like Pennsylvania - which has 500 juvenile lifers, the most in the nation - to apply that retroactively.

But most juveniles resentenced so far have been first-degree murder cases. Bryant is one of about 175 juveniles statewide convicted of second-degree murder.

"I feel that if this had happened today, he wouldn't have been in the adult system," said Mira Baylson, a Drinker Biddle & Reath lawyer representing Bryant pro bono. "There was no intent to commit murder. There was no violence. He didn't even know the victim was there until after she had passed away."

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has said it will uniformly seek sentences in line with current state law: 35 years to life for first-degree perpetrators between ages 15 and 17 and 30 years to life in second-degree cases.

To advocates, that formula - in particular, the "life" maximum - runs counter to the Supreme Court's decisions in Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, which emphasized the reduced culpability of children and the importance of assessing each case individually.

"Treating every juvenile as if he must have a lifetime maximum sentence is contrary to the spirit of Miller and Montgomery," said Marc Bookman of the Philadelphia-based Atlantic Center for Capital Representation. "For juveniles that don't kill or intend to kill, they must be treated more leniently than other juveniles - and that applies not only to their minimum sentences but also to their maximum sentences."

In December, Bookman filed a petition with the state Supreme Court, urging it to clarify whether juveniles in second-degree cases must be treated significantly more leniently than first-degree cases.

He made the case on behalf of Ricky Lee Olds, a Pittsburgh man who was 14 when he was convicted of second-degree murder.

Olds had been there when an older friend decided to rob a convenience store; when Olds saw his friend holding a gun, he ran away. Last November, after 37 years in prison, he was resentenced to 20 years to life. He appealed, seeking a shorter maximum sentence. A judge initially granted him bail, then denied it.

Marsha Levick, chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, joined the Atlantic Center in that petition. Levick also argued in December before the state Supreme Court on behalf of juvenile lifer Qu'eed Batts, a precedent-setting first-degree murder case.

Her hope is the court will provide clarity on how to proceed in both first- and second-degree cases.

New sentences imposed around the commonwealth have ranged from time served to life without parole and cover almost everything in between.

"The courts don't know what to do," Levick said. "It ends up looking arbitrary, and it frankly may be unconstitutional if they're receiving sentences the courts don't have the proper statutory bases for issuing. That creates a scenario where individuals are going to come back and appeal yet again. It will clog the legal system."

Philadelphia Deputy District Attorney John Delaney disagreed. He said the state's high court already decided, when it heard Batts' case previously, that the mandatory maximum in such cases is life.

In Philadelphia, no resentencings have yet gone to judges for contested hearings; all have been decided by agreement. That's because older cases are being processed first, and many inmates who already have been incarcerated for 35, 40, or 45 years are eager to take deals making them immediately eligible for release - even if it means a lifetime on parole. That, in turn, means a lifetime of supervision and an unending risk of being reincarcerated on some technical violation.

In the case of Norman Bryant, now 47, there's plenty awaiting him on the outside.

Bryant had a traumatic childhood: His mother was a drug user. Often, there was little food and no heat. He was hit by a drunk driver at age 5 and suffered seizures as a result. He had completed only the eighth grade before he was sentenced.

His codefendants were also sentenced to life without parole for the second-degree murder. Richard Moore, who was 14 at the time of the crime, is also going through the resentencing process, but it has been on hold as he is also applying for commutation.

In prison, Bryant received his GED and became an imam.

He became a mentor and a peacemaker, said Arthur Johnson, 25, of Germantown, who was locked up with him for five years.

About three years ago, Bryant also found out he had another brother - in fact, a whole family. His father, Norman Whitest Sr., had been incarcerated briefly and lost track of Bryant's mother (she had moved the family to seven addresses in nine years).

Whitest said he had looked but couldn't find his son - until nearly 40 years later, in 2013, when a random encounter with a stranger clued him in to Bryant's whereabouts.

The resentencing hearing was the first time Whitest's wife, JoAnn, and son Norman Jr. had seen Bryant in person. But he had already become family, they said.

Norman Jr. recently earned his associate's degree and opened his own salon, called Total Inspirations. He credited Bryant for that: "He mentored me through school. He was always like, 'You can make it, brother, you can do it.' Now, I will do everything in my power to see that he's successful."

JoAnn said she was looking forward to welcoming Bryant into her household.

"He's been in so long. All his childhood is gone. All his young manhood is gone," she said.

Now, he will likely go before the parole board in the next few months and have a chance at middle age.

215-854-5053 @samanthamelamed