[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, LA., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Mar 2 09:58:33 CST 2005
Death Penalty Ruling Hits Texas Hard----Some are relieved, others angered,
as the execution capital weighs the implications of no longer executing
those who killed as youths.
When Raymond Cobb's conscience couldn't take any more, when he couldn't
shoulder being a member of his high school band and a murderer too, he
confessed his crime like a child - not to the police, but to his dad.
According to court documents, he told his father that he had broken into
the neighbors' house in Huntsville, Texas, to steal a stereo. Surprised
when Margaret Owings came home, he killed her. "I asked him, 'What about
the little girl?'" Charles Cobb told detectives. "And he just said, 'She's
Cobb was 17 at the time. Kori Rae Owings was 16 months. He had buried her
On Tuesday, Cobb became one of 72 death row inmates whose sentences were
commuted by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the Constitution
prohibits the execution of people who were under 18 when they committed
Across the nation, the court's decision sparked impassioned debate and
prompted difficult questions: What special considerations do children
deserve? Who is a child? And - perhaps the toughest of all - are some
people beyond rehabilitation?
Nowhere did the debate rage as fiercely as in Texas. Since the Supreme
Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, Texas has been responsible
for about 1/3 of the nation's executions. Since then, of the 22 people who
have been executed for crimes they committed when they were under 18, 13
were executed in Texas. Of the 72 inmates affected by Tuesday's ruling, 29
- about 40% - are from Texas.
"This was the most horrendous thing I have ever seen," said David Weeks,
the Walker County, Texas, district attorney who secured a death sentence
against Raymond Cobb, who is now 28 and has been on death row since 1997.
Cobb told police that he had been surprised when Margaret Owings lunged at
him inside the home. He stabbed her, he said, then dragged her body to a
wooded area to bury her.
He discovered the child sleeping inside the house and carried her outside
as well, apparently unsure of what to do with her. He said the child "fell
in the hole," and once that happened, he said he put the mother's body on
top of the child and buried them together.
"The way he carried out the crime tells you more than what his physical
age was," Weeks said. "There are people younger than 18 out there who are
as scary as anybody you can come across. They're just wired differently.
If ever there was a crime that the death penalty was designed to punish,
that was it."
That would have been the easy way out, said Jim Marcus, executive director
of the Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit group that represents death row
"No one is trying to minimize these tragedies. The question is: Is the
person who committed the crime someone who is morally culpable as an
adult?" he said. "I don't think any reasonable person would argue that
7-year-olds or 12-year-olds should be subjected to the death penalty. You
don't have to ask why. It's just intuitive. Once you accept that premise,
what is the cutoff? Today the Supreme Court said that it is 18."
The 1st time Barbara Acuna's heart was broken was when her son, Robert, a
17-year-old, was accused of murdering two neighbors who once paid him to
mow their lawn. The 2nd time, she said from her home in Baytown, was when
she learned that the Harris County district attorney would seek to execute
"He lived here at home," she said. "He wasn't old enough to vote. He
wasn't old enough to rent a car. He was considered a juvenile in every
other legal aspect. And then all of a sudden he was old enough for them to
go after the death penalty."
Several death penalty opponents also noted that the 29 people on death row
in Texas who were sent there for crimes they committed as juveniles
include a disproportionate number of minorities. 9 are African American,
12 are Latino and 1 is Asian American. 7 - or 24% - are white, though
Texas is more than 70% white.
Walter Long, a defense attorney from Austin who has worked on numerous
death penalty cases, represented Napoleon Beazley, an African American who
was 17 when he shot and killed a man during a carjacking. During Beazley's
trial, prosecutors pointed out that he had watched the film "Boyz N the
Hood" before the killing. Beazley was executed in 2002 at age 25.
"They said he felt himself to be a little gangster," Long said. " 'Boyz N
the Hood' does not take a positive view of gangs. It was just a way to
seize on his race and prejudice the jury."
Many law enforcement officers, however, condemned Tuesday's ruling.
Harris County Dist. Atty. Chuck Rosenthal said the state Legislature had
already determined that the appropriate cutoff for the death penalty was
17 - a law that has been on the books for nearly 150 years.
"There is a line in Texas," he said. "What I think the opinion really says
is that 5 Supreme Court justices believe that their moral judgment is
superior to that of the Texas Legislature. When the Supreme Court gets
into line-drawing, they are overstepping their bounds."
Charley Wilkison, political and legislative director for the Austin-based
Combined Law Enforcement Assns. of Texas, the state's largest law
enforcement organization, said the law enforcement community feared that
juvenile crime could increase because of the court's ruling.
"For some individuals in Texas, and elsewhere, there is a great deal of a
chance that at some point you are going to wind up in prison," he said.
"At that point, the death penalty is the only real deterrent. It would
stand to reason that gangs will recruit underage people to commit murders.
The selling point, the spin inside the gang, would be: 'You do it. Because
you won't get the death penalty.'"
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Courts ruling gets Brownsville man off death row
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling over a case from Missouri got a Brownsville
man off Texas death row on Tuesday.
Jose Ignacio Monterrubio was 17 years old when he and his older cousin
Sixto Monterrubio raped, beat, stabbed and then strangled a female
classmate from Rivera High School in September 1993.
The 2 men buried the body of 16-year-old Carla Villarreal in a shallow
grave near the airport. The body was found 1 month later.
Sixto Monterrubio was sentenced to life in prison.
Under state law, Jose Ignacio Monterrubio was tried as an adult and
received a death sentence in October 1994.
Citing the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, Supreme
Court justices said in a 5-4 decision Tuesday that it is unconstitutional
to execute juvenile murderers.
Texas was one of 20 states where the death penalty was applied on capital
crimes to offenders between the ages of 15 and 18.
The courts decision nullifies death sentences for Monterrubio and 71 other
murderers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes.
The ruling also prevents any future 16- and 17-year-olds from being
eligible for execution.
First Cameron County District Attorney John Blaylock said his office will
review the Supreme Courts ruling to see how it would apply to Monterrubios
"We'll verify if the ruling is retroactive or proactive," Blaylock said.
"Then well be able to make a comment."
According to federal court records, Jose Ignacio Monterrubio had lost a
death sentence appeal in February 2004.
At press time Tuesday, Monterrubio remained on the Texas Department of
Criminal Justices official list of 445 death row inmates.
According to court records, Sixto Monterrubio had asked for a forensic DNA
Judge Roberto Garza with the 138th state District Court denied the request
2 weeks ago.
(source: The Brownsville Herald)
No death row for juveniles
Since that terrible Christmas Day in 1994 when Ginger Rode found her
brother Elmer brutally murdered in his Beaumont home she has found some
comfort knowing that the person convicted of the crime was facing his own
mortality on Texas' death row.
But after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, her brother's
killer may one day go free.
28-year-old John Dewberry was only 17 at the time of the crime, and a
closely divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that it's unconstitutional to
execute juvenile killers.
"I have been looking for justice for my brother, and now that has been
taken away from me," Ginger Rode said by telephone Tuesday.
The 5-4 decision throws out the death sentences of 72 murderers nationally
and 28 in the state of Texas who were under 18 when they committed their
crimes. Texas is one of 19 states that allows the death penalty for
Dewberry, along with Whitney Lee Reeves, now 23, are the 2 juvenile
offenders from Jefferson County currently on death row.
The executions, the court said, violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel
and unusual punishment.
"The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes
between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the
line for death eligibility ought to rest," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
The ruling continues the court's practice of narrowing the scope of the
death penalty, which justices reinstated in 1976. Executions for those 15
and younger when they committed their crimes were outlawed in 1988. 3
years ago justices banned death sentences for the mentally retarded.
"First there was a national consensus against to not allow the death
penalty for the mentally retarded," Jefferson County District Attorney Tom
Maness said. "Now there is a national consensus against the death penalty
for 17 year olds. In the past it had been a state's decision. Now the
Supreme Court has made the decision."
Dewberry, born on Jan. 30, 1977, was convicted for the Dec. 25, 1994
robbery and murder of 57-year-old Elmer G. Rode Jr., a former registrar
and dean at Lamar University in Beaumont. Rode was tied up with a
telephone cord and belt inside his home and shot in the back of the head.
His home was ransacked and burglarized. Dewberry and 19-year-old brother
Chris were later convicted. John Dewberry received the death penalty and
Chris Dewberry received life in prison with the possibility of parole
after 40 years.
Reeves, born Aug. 21, 1981, and an accomplice killed a 14-year-old girl
and her 40-year-old father on Aug. 20, 1999 with a 12-gauge shotgun at the
victims' apartment in Beaumont. Reeves was within a few hours of his 18th
birthday at the time of the crime. The apparent motive for the shooting
was that the girl had previously testified at a grand jury hearing. Her
testimony resulted in charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child
being filed against Reeves' accomplice.
Maness said it is likely that Reeves and Dewberry will now receive a life
sentence for capital murder.
"That means they goes back into the general prison population," Maness
said. "They can play baseball on Sunday and get other privileges. And they
may be eligible for parole after serving 40 years."
Maness said the Jefferson County District Attorney's office will voice
their opposition to the parole of Dewberry and Reeves.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor cast one of the dissenting votes
Tuesday, arguing that a blanket rule against juvenile executions was
misguided. Case-by-case determinations of a young offenders' maturity is
the better approach, she wrote.
"The court's analysis is premised on differences in the aggregate between
juveniles and adults, which frequently do not hold true when comparing
individuals," she said. "Chronological age is not an unfailing measure of
psychological development, and common experience suggests that many
17-year-olds are more mature than the average young 'adult."'
Ginger Rode said she was very unhappy with the Supreme Court decision.
"I feel like the Supreme Court did not consider the victims," she said.
"You have to look at each case. You can't group John Dewberry in with
those that were not mature enough to know what they were doing. Basically
I feel like they told me my brother's life is not important, that a
17-year-old cold-blooded killer means more."
Rode said that Dewberry went to her brother's home with the intention of
killing him and the burglary was just an afterthought.
She said the Jefferson County jurors made the decision based on the facts
and evidence of the case.
"It's like this puts a knife or gun in the hands of any juvenile that is
having thoughts of murder," Rode said. "It gives them an open door and
let's them think they can beat the system."
But death penalty opponents quickly cheered Tuesday's ruling.
"Today, the court repudiated the misguided idea that the United States can
pledge to leave no child behind while simultaneously exiling children to
the death chamber," said William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty
"Now the U.S. can proudly remove its name from the embarrassing list of
human rights violators that includes China, Iran, and Pakistan that still
execute juvenile offenders," he said.
The Supreme Court has permitted states to impose capital punishment since
1976. 22 of the people put to death since then were juveniles when they
committed their crimes.
The court was called on to draw an age line for executions after
Missouri's highest court overturned the death sentence given to
Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he kidnapped a neighbor, hog-tied her
and threw her off a bridge in 1993. Prosecutors say he planned the
burglary and killing of Shirley Crook and bragged that he could get away
with it because of his age.
Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen
Breyer and Anthony Kennedy supported the decision Tuesday, while Chief
Justice William H. Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Sandra
Day O'Connor dissented.
(source: The Port Arthur News)
Supreme Court Decision Takes Caddo Parish Man Off Death Row
Vickie McGraw was on the way to her boyfriend`s apartment but never made
it. Instead, she was robbed, raped, and killed...
Aaron Wilson was 17 years, 11 months old at the time of the crime.
A jury convicted him...
As he gets off death row, his victim`s family must relive the crime.
Victim's assistance director Leone Fitzgerald says, "Now, it's all been
brought back up again, they're having to think about it again. So it`s a
very emotional thing for them to have to deal with."
For years, the Supreme Court has tried to determine when a juveniles mind
set became like an adult. While Tuesday`s decision changes the fate of
more than 70 inmates nationwide, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said each
circumstance should be judged on a case-by-case basis.
In Wilson's case, one of the original prosecutors says he acted like a man
then and deserves the death penalty like one now.
ADA Suzanne Owens said, "mentally, he`s all there. Emotionally, he`s all
there. he had a supportive, loving family. He had a good background, he
had gone to school and he just chose to act in a way that society can not
tolerate. "He's getting off the hook?" Yes, in my opinion."
Wilson's family didn't answer our request for an interview but owens does
sympathize with his family.
"They're still suffering that loss, no matter what Mr. Wilson's end is.
The McCraw family has lost their loved one and the Wilson family has lost
their loved one all because of some very very bad actions."
The US Supreme Court has allowed states to put people to death since 1976.
22 of the people put to death since then were juveniles when they
committed their crimes.
Texas executed the most, 13, and also has the most on death row now - 29.
(source: NewsChannel 16 TV News)
Execution decision affects 2 EBR cases
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that bans the execution of juvenile
killers will force a Baton Rouge prosecutor to change his plans for a
Nevertheless, serial-sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo will still stand trial
in Baton Rouge for a 2002 shooting, and the trial could occur much more
quickly, attorneys in the case said Tuesday.
"I've been resolute to extradite Lee Boyd Malvo from Virginia for
first-degree murder, and I intended to seek the death penalty," First
Assistant District Attorney John Sinquefield said. "That hasn't changed my
Sinquefield said the only difference will be the penalty he seeks.
"I will seek the maximum penalty of life in prison," Sinquefield said.
Malvo, now 19, and John Allen Muhammad, 43, have been indicted on
first-degree murder in the killing of Hong Im Ballenger in September 2002.
Ballenger was shot outside the Beauty Depot on Florida Boulevard during a
Authorities contend the Baton Rouge shooting was part of what prosecutors
have described as a nationwide sniper shooting spree masterminded by
Muhammad. Muhammad has already been sentenced to death in the slaying of
Dean Harold Meyers in Manassas, Va.
Malvo's Baton Rouge court-appointed attorney, David Price, said the
Supreme Court decision is consistent with a national trend. The court
recognized the "evolving standard" marked by the many states that have
eliminated the death penalty for people under 18 years of age, he said.
"I'm pleased with the decision and I think it is correct because it
recognizes a trend across the country to do away with the death penalty
for those young people," Price said.
Price said the decision also recognizes research that the brains of
juveniles are not yet fully developed; therefore, juveniles should not be
held to the same standard of behavior as adults.
"There is no question (Malvo) was under the control of the older
individual (Muhammad)," Price said.
The Tuesday ruling could have another influence on Malvo's Baton Rouge
case, Price said. The trial likely will happen more quickly.
Price said Malvo has been convicted in one Virginia case and sentenced to
life in prison. In addition, Malvo has pleaded guilty in other cases and
received life sentences, but Virginia prosecutors were holding off on one
or two cases until after the Supreme Court decision that came Tuesday,
Malvo will likely be allowed to plead guilty to the remaining charges in
Virginia. It will then be up to Virginia authorities to decide whether
Malvo next goes to Louisiana, Maryland or Alabama for prosecution in the
remaining cases, Price said.
There is only one other case awaiting trial in East Baton Rouge Parish
that could be affected by the Supreme Court ruling.
That case involves Alex Hammond, now 19 years old, who was indicted on a
count of 1st-degree murder in the May 2002 killing of Corey Carter.
Prosecutor Mark Dumaine said at the time of Hammond's indictment that
Hammond and a co-defendant, Marcus W. Rowley, 24, are accused of killing
Carter in a robbery.
Carter was found dead in his Plank Road apartment. He had been bound with
tape and shot in the head, Dumaine said. Hammond and Rowley are accused of
stealing a handgun, $25 and a gold chain, the prosecutor said.
The trial in that case is scheduled for June 20.
East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defender Mike Mitchell said a slim majority
of the Supreme Court has begun to take a more-careful look at capital
punishment. 3 years ago, the court blocked the execution of mentally
retarded people and now it has blocked the execution of people under 18
years of age.
"I hope this is an indication of the idea that we are getting to the point
where, in a civilized society, we get to the point where we don't have the
death penalty at all," Mitchell said. "For a civilized society to be
executing people is unacceptable."
Prisons can keep even the most-evil killers safely away from the public,
said Mitchell, whose office is assigned to many capital cases in East
Baton Rouge Parish, including serial-killer suspect Derrick Todd Lee.
(source: The Advocate)
"United States: The Death Penalty Abolished for Minors"
In a clear victory for the opponents of capital punishment in the United
States, the Supreme Court yesterday abolished the death penalty for
criminals who were under 18 at the time of the act. By 5 votes to four,
Americas highest court felt that the execution of minors was cruel and
unconstitutional, referring to the eighth amendment to the Constitution,
which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. "Our society considers minors
less guilty than adult criminals," wrote Anthony Kennedy, explaining the
The decision in effect cancels the death sentences handed down against 70
inmates in the United States, all minors when they committed their crimes.
Until now, 19 of the 38 states applying the death penalty continued to
execute minors. In 1988 already, the Supreme Court had forbidden the
execution of minors under 16, but certain states applied the death penalty
for minors who were 16 and 17 at the time of the crime.
The Supreme Court based its decision on the case of Christopher Simmons,
who was 17 when he kidnapped his neighbor and threw her off a bridge in
Missouri in 1993. Last year the Missouri Supreme Court had overturned the
death sentence against Simmons, also citing the 8th amendment to the
Constitution. The state prosecutors appealed to the United States Supreme
The announcement brought numerous reactions in the camp of death penalty
opponents, some of whom felt that this decree marked a new step in the
questioning of capital punishment. In 2002 the Court had decided to
abolish executions for the mentally retarded, citing "evolving community
standards." According to Diann Rust-Tierney, director of the National
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, "the judges have confirmed that
public opinion has changed concerning the death penalty and that the
execution of minors is considered an inhuman practice by a majority (of
In a dissent, one of the most conservative Supreme Court justices, Anthony
Scalia, felt that "all that will lead to someday raising the question of
the acceptability of the death penalty."
(source: Liberation (Paris) )
Ruling correctly exempts 16- and 17-year-olds
The United States joined most of the world Tuesday in finally ending the
execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes.
By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled, correctly, that executing 16- and
17-year-olds violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual
punishment. The decision ended the shameful practice in 19 states and
throws out the death sentences of about 70 juveniles.
The United States had been almost alone in permitting the execution of
minors. Only six other nations allow it, and those countries, including
Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China, have practically abandoned the
Tuesday's decision is consistent with earlier Supreme Court rulings that
outlawed executions of the mentally retarded, and of those 15 and younger
when they committed their crime.
The idea underpinning these rulings is simple: Maturity and mental
capacity help determine a legal level of responsibility. Society doesn't
extend adult rights to 16- and 17-year-olds because they don't possess the
same maturity and judgment. Nor should they suffer the same consequences,
especially death. Even the most ardent supporters of the death penalty
ought to approve of the Supreme Court's decision.
Evolving community standards might eventually force the high court to
reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty itself. Poor people
and minorities make up most of those on death row. Since the new science
of DNA technology, the public generally recognizes that a disquieting
number of death row inmates were actually innocent -- and that others not
affected by DNA technology may also be.
For now, the Supreme Court continued to narrow the scope of the death
penalty by making the right decision on the case before it.
Executing children is unquestionably cruel, unusual and unconstitutional.
(source: Editorial, Detroit Free Press)
Justice In Limiting Death Penalty
No sentence is adequate for murder. But as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
Tuesday, the death penalty should be reserved for the most ruthless and
culpable criminals -- not for those who may be too young or too mentally
disabled to fully understand their crimes.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court outlawed the death penalty for convicted
murderers who were younger than 18 at the time of the crime. The decision
leaned upon a 2002 ruling to outlaw the death penalty for people who are,
as the court put it, mentally retarded and less capable of reason.
"When a juvenile commits a heinous crime, the state can exact forfeiture
of some of the most basic liberties," the majority ruled, "but the state
cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature
understanding of his own humanity."
This week's court ruling may appear, heaven forbid, like judicial
activism. But in truth, the justices merely followed the lead of the
majority of states and affirmed changes in the "national consensus" on the
death penalty. A majority of states, including Oregon, already outlaw the
death penalty for juveniles. The remainder of states apply it rarely --
even in execution-happy states such as Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma.
About 70 people sit on state Death Rows for crimes they committed as
juveniles. Most of them are also serving life sentences: The ruling erases
their death sentences, but it won't free them from prison.
In a way, life in prison is a tougher punishment for these younger
criminals than execution. It gives them more time to realize what they
(source: Editorial, The Oregonian)
Juvenile death penalty abolished
In a seminal 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court strikes down capital
punishment for those who commit crimes under age 18.
The US Supreme Court has struck down the juvenile death penalty, embracing
a constitutional challenge that the nation's evolving standards of decency
have rendered the practice cruel and unusual.
In a landmark decision announced Tuesday, the justices ruled 5 to 4 that
state laws authorizing capital punishment for 16- and 17-year-olds who
commit murder violate the Eighth Amendment and are henceforth
unconstitutional. The action reverses the death sentences of 72 convicted
murderers who committed their crimes as juveniles.
Juvenile justice advocates hail the ruling as a major advance for American
society. "This is a great day," says Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law
Center in Philadelphia.
"It confirms that America's standards of decency have indeed evolved and
that children are different," says Stephen Harper, a professor of juvenile
justice at the University of Miami.
The high court said a national consensus had emerged in opposition to the
execution of juveniles. Dissenting justices said the fact that 20 states
authorize the death penalty for juveniles is proof that no such consensus
The ruling in a case called Roper v. Simmons means the death penalty still
applies to anyone age 18 and older. But juries can no longer be asked to
assess whether defendants who committed their crimes between ages 16 and
18 were mature and culpable enough at the time of the crime to warrant
society's harshest punishment. Instead, teens who commit even the most
heinous crimes will face a maximum punishment of life in prison.
"The differences between juvenile and adult offenders are too marked and
well understood to risk allowing a youthful person to receive the death
penalty despite insufficient culpability," writes Justice Anthony Kennedy
for the majority.
"The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes
between childhood and adulthood," Justice Kennedy says. "It is, we
conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest."
Kennedy was joined in the majority opinion by Justices John Paul Stevens,
David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.
The majority justices extended to the juvenile death penalty the same
analysis used in a 2002 landmark ruling invalidating the death penalty for
persons with mental retardation. The justices said youth, like a mental
disability, can so reduce a criminal's blameworthiness or culpability as
to require a constitutional bar against capital punishment.
"An unacceptable likelihood exists that the brutality or cold-blooded
nature of any particular crime would overpower mitigating arguments based
on youth as a matter of course," Kennedy writes, "even where the juvenile
offender's objective immaturity, vulnerability, and lack of true depravity
should require a sentence less severe than death."
In a dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor criticizes the majority for
usurping the role of state lawmakers and jurors in deciding the issue.
"The rule decreed by the court rests, ultimately, on its independent moral
judgment that death is a disproportionately severe punishment for any
17-year-old offender," Justice O'Connor writes. "I do not subscribe to
this judgment. Adolescents as a class are undoubtedly less mature, and
therefore less culpable for their misconduct, than adults," she says. "But
the court has adduced no evidence impeaching the seemingly reasonable
conclusion reached by many state legislatures: that at least some
17-year-old murderers are sufficiently mature to deserve the death
The decision stems from a Missouri murder case involving a teen sentenced
to death for tying up a woman while burglarizing her home. He then dumped
her - still bound and alive - into a river. Christopher Simmons was 17 at
the time of the crime.
While planning the burglary and murder, Mr. Simmons told his friends that
even if he was caught, nothing would happen to him because he was a
The Missouri Supreme Court struck down Simmons's death sentence, citing a
2002 decision by the US Supreme Court barring execution of the mentally
retarded. The Missouri high court applied the ruling in the context of a
juvenile death-penalty case, even though the US Supreme Court itself had
not yet extended its 2002 ruling to juveniles.
In taking up the Missouri case, the Supreme Court agreed to explore two
questions. First, can a lower court like the Missouri Supreme Court extend
US Supreme Court precedents into new areas prior to the high court itself
Second, the justices agreed to examine whether a national consensus has
emerged that the juvenile death penalty is a form of cruel and unusual
punishment barred by the Eighth Amendment.
Kennedy did not address the Missouri Supreme Court's actions in his
opinion. In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia raised the issue, saying the
Missouri high court had engaged in a "flagrant disregard" of Supreme Court
precedent by applying the court's analysis in the 2002 case to the
juvenile death-penalty case before the high court itself had done so.
"Allowing lower courts to reinterpret the Eighth Amendment whenever they
decide enough time has passed for a new snapshot leaves this court's
decisions without any force," Justice Scalia writes.
He also criticized the majority opinion for including references to
international opposition to the juvenile death penalty.
"Only seven countries other than the United States have executed juvenile
offenders since 1990," Kennedy writes. "Since then each of these countries
has either abolished capital punishment for juveniles or made public
disavowal of the practice."
Anticipating criticism, Kennedy adds, "The opinion of the world community,
while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant
confirmation for our own conclusions."
Scalia was undeterred in his dissent. "To invoke alien law when it agrees
with one's own thinking, and ignore it otherwise, is not reasoned
decisionmaking, but sophistry," he says.
(source: Christian Science Monitor)
Court stops execution of young murderers
To the victim, it doesn't make any difference how old the murderer is.
Capital punishment should not be age-dependent. But we need to be
absolutely, undeniably certain of guilt.
I commend the Supreme Court for this historic decision. Considering the
mistakes of our infamous crime lab, we Houstonians know better than most
that innocent people can and have been sentenced to death -- a fact even
more horrifying when it applies to someone whose life has really just
begun. If this decision keeps our bloodthirsty state from executing one
innocent young adult then it will be worth the possibility of a guilty one
getting to live as well.
Brian K. Carter----Rice Military/Memorial area
If the crime committed has the possibility of punishment by death, that
sentence should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis regardless of age.
Jim Homer----1960 area
Another example of the court exceeding its authority. States have laws in
place concerning minimum age for execution. This court had to look to
foreign, unsigned treaties to find support for their opinion. Can you say,
"Legislate from the bench?"
It is a positive step for the Supreme Court to take. It should also
revisit the execution of the mentally ill. Of course, death-penalty crimes
are very heinous, but a mandatory life-without-parole option can guarantee
the offender is never back on the streets. It's ironic that as the United
States talks of barbaric behavior around the world, we still elect to kill
our own citizens. I think today's ruling is a positive step in the right
Brent T. Wallace----Klein
What is society trying to do with the death sentence? If it is taking the
unforgivable criminal out of society then it should be for children and
adults alike. If the death sentence is for punishment, then children have
a different "set of rules" anyway and it is a good ruling.
Nancy Key Pearson----Lake Jackson
I find the logic of the court's ruling to be somewhat faulty when it comes
to the intent of the law. Laws are enacted to, among other things, protect
society. While I appreciate the fact that youth are impetuous, youth who
murder are intolerable. While the standard argument is death sentences
don't deter crime, I cannot recall anyone being murdered by a dead person.
Impetuous or not, any 17-year-old who kills will become a 35-year-old who
kills. They are a threat to society and have forfeited their right to live
in that society. However, there should be irrefutable proof of guilt
before anyone is executed for any crime.
I applaud the humanity shown by the court. However, the sharp division
points out how important (from any viewpoint) the next nominee will be.
David C. Wigglesworth----Kingwood
In its 5-4 decision to throw out the death penalty for juvenile murderers
and bar states from seeking to execute minors for future crimes, the
Supreme Court has, once again, shown how easily it bows to pressure from
the religious right when making decisions. Tampering with the rights of
states to make their own decisions regarding their own prisoners is not
what the Supreme Court needs to concern itself with. This decision to
rescind the death penalty for anyone under age 18 may, in fact, cause
juvenile homicides to increase since they will now have a free ride when
it comes to committing murder. I can't believe I agree with Justice
Antonin Scalia, but I do. "The court thus proclaims itself the sole
arbiter of our nation's moral standards," Scalia wrote in his dissent.
Today's juveniles are more street smart, harder, more gang-oriented than
ever before and they have less parental supervision than ever before.
Committing the ultimate act of violence against another human being will
no longer carry the ultimate penalty. The Supreme Court has now wiped out
the last shred of fear that might keep even one "youthful offender" from
taking another person's life.
William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA proudly
claims victory and says now the United States can be removed from the list
of human rights violators. Murder is a violation of human rights no matter
how young the perpetrator is. Murder ends the life of another human being
no matter how young the victim is. Mr. Schulz is proud and so are the
justices who voted to take the law into their own hands. There's an old
saying: "Pride goeth before a fall."
Mary Katherine Marion----Southwest Houston
It appears to me the Supreme Court is not familiar with reality in U.S.
neighborhoods and made a big mistake. A teenager who commits murder is not
just your "little ol' teenager." Why keep them in prison for life at
taxpayers' expense. Execution is the only answer to permanently remove
them from society.
Evia Jeannine Hobbs Richards----Hockley
I agree with the decision. Since our school system has devolved into a
holding cell for prison, thanks to the self-fulfilling prophecies of our
"conservative" lawmakers, why are we not surprised young people kill,
simply emulating their elders? Who should be judged worse, the child or
the society that taught it to kill? In a civilized society, certainly not
the child. We broke 'em, we should at least try to fix 'em.
The U.S.Supreme Court's decision is furthering the attitude of not being
responsible for one's action. Sadly over the years we have seen courts,
schools, and parents rationalizing when a child does what society feels is
a wrongful act.
It has continued to a point where as adults they don't "suffer the
consequences of their actions." At 7 years of age, a child knows right
from wrong, and from that age forward a child should realize there is a
penalty for the "consequences of their actions." That should be carried
forward to 15 years of age the death penalty for heinous acts of murder,
because at that age they should know the taking of a person's life is
heinous. (Especially taking the life of more than one.)
Can anyone deny that no longer do we do not believe we should "suffer the
consequences of our actions?" Has there been a time in our history where
so many corporations or individuals have committed so many millions of
dollars of fraud on their fellow man, and cry if they are punished?
How many times do we hear, "He had a bad childhood. His family was poor?"
Can we go back to the morals of the "Greatest Generation?" No way! It is
too late to undo the damage created by the inaction of the parents,
teachers and finally the courts. Today's 15- or 16-year-old is equal to at
least an 18- or 19-year-old of previous generations. Let the death penalty
stand. Consequences of their actions.
Edward Gibbons--Sugar Land
While I've never been an avid proponent of the death penalty, I have been
a strong supporter of state's rights. This seems like a definite
infringement on those rights by the Supreme Court. Indeed, as we rely more
and more on the government to take care of us, we find more and more of
our liberties disappearing.
Dustin Windsor--Northwest Houston
A person over the age of 13 knows right from wrong. Committing murder, is
not a game! A person who commits murder, while doing a crime, knows what
he/she is doing. This person should have to pay for their acts.
It's a crying shame we have minors on death row. However, execution for
crimes are determined by several factors surrounding the crime. In Texas,
inmates on death row must meet certain criteria before the punishment of
death is handed down. If conditions aren't met, then execution is not an
option and an alternate punishment is delivered.
We have prison systems. We are a state that upholds execution. If a person
commits heinous crimes and is eligible for confinement within our adult
prison system then all forms of punishment should apply to that offender.
Crime in any form is atrocious. The U.S. Supreme Court once ruled that
acts of violence in any form was unconstitutional and punished those who
commit such acts accordingly. Our judicial system has evolved into a world
of omission and excuses for offenders. What about the victims? Well, it's
just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Once again, our system defends the offender. The Supreme Court wants to
create an age for offenders at which the line for death eligibility rests?
What about a line for the victims at which life eligibility exists?
I believe that juvenile offenders are only going to become more bold if
they face no deterrent. And like it nor not, the death penalty is the
ultimate deterrent. If someone is old enough to pull the trigger and knows
right from wrong, then he/she should be old enough to face the
The Supreme Court is going too far in taking power from the states and
legislating morality. Too bad the victims of these juveniles didn't get to
choose whether or not to be executed.
Marilyn Braley----Clear Lake
The death penalty is our embarrassing link to the more barbaric times of
lynching and beheading in an effort to appease or rather seek revenge for
the victim. We all find noble the victim or the family of a victim who
looks to the perpetrator and forgives. Our base instinct is to seek
revenge, usually with a mob mentality, but I don't believe this accurately
reflects the society we want to be. It seems to me that the further we
venture from brutality and the more we covet rehabilitation and redemption
the less likely we will have to deal with the decision to end someone's
life. Definitely a step in the right direction.
Penny Barrett Hornsby--Missouri City
Ultimate power -- the power of life over death -- is fearful until it is
wrestled away. Shouldn't we concern ourselves more with how to condemn
this power, rather than who is allowed it? It seems that until this
question is resolved we need all tremble.
Once again, the Supreme Court decides our nation's moral standards. I wish
the court would explain where in the Constitution it forbids or implies
that execution of killers, who were under the age of 18 at the time the
crime was committed, is unconstitutional. This is a states' rights issue.
Whether you feel it is right or wrong, it is not a Constitutional issue
but an issue for the citizens of each state to vote on.
John Lainhart----Sugar Land
The decision of life and death ultimately lies in the hands of God, but
our lawmakers and juries have the task off judging one on his/her deeds,
then assessing punishment for that crime. If we are to rid our society of
hardened criminals who linger for years on death row, decisions must be
made to proceed with their untimely deaths. If the death penalty is not
enforced, overcrowding in penal institutions will become overwhelming. I
have not understood why an individual is given a death sentence, then
allowed to remain on death row for 10-20 years or more. Has anyone stopped
to examine the extreme costs related to housing a single inmate? I feel
that age has nothing to do with it when that person commits adult crimes.
Let the punishment fit the crime!
Charline R. Thompson----West Houston
The Supreme Court decision is a giant step forward in the evolution of our
civilization. Juveniles do not have the maturity of adults, and their
decisions reflect that lower level of judgment. This is a great day for
Texas and the United States.
I applaud the Supreme Court for pulling us forward when legislatures fail
to do the right thing. We need to continue moving toward the day when all
executions will be abolished. We should respect all human life by
recognizing that some people make terrible mistakes but we are not going
to stoop to their level and commit premeditated murder. We are going to
take the high road.
Jimmy Dunne----West Houston
In my opinion murder is murder and knows no age or mental capacity. The
result is that someone has unjustly lost his or her life at the hands of a
dangerous person. That person needs to be removed from society at the
least burden to society. A murderous person is rarely capable of being
rehabilitated for reinstatement into society. Maturity does not occur as a
result of turning the page on a calendar. If a person is capable of taking
a life then the price they pay should be extreme. Give some rights back to
the victims and the capital crime rate just might decrease.
Nick Glorioso----Cinco Ranch
(source: Opinions, Houston Chronicle)
SPARING THE YOUNG----High court ban on executing juveniles is a needed
restraint on Texas' death penalty conveyer belt
On Texas' death row, 28 Texas inmates await execution for crimes they
committed before they were 18. For them, the U.S. Supreme Court decision
announced Tuesday brought the promise of continued life, though likely one
spent behind bars. As with the high court's ruling two years ago outlawing
the execution of mentally retarded criminals, the latest action rolls back
the constitutional boundaries of capital punishment within the United
States and removes another controversial aspect of the death penalty.
Among those inmates receiving permanent reprieves are 2 men slated to die
in June for the brutal gang initiation killings of 16-year-old Elizabeth
Pea and Jennifer Ertman in 1993. Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal, both 17
at the time, were among 5 members of the Black and White gang sentenced to
death for sexually assaulting and then killing the girls as they walked
home in northwest Houston. The victim's families deserve sympathy for
their pain and loss, and might desire closure and retribution. However the
Supreme Court is right to draw a definitive line on capital punishment.
As Villarreal told the Chronicle's Mike Tolson during a death row
interview last year, "I just don't think I was mature enough to make a
wise decision, especially under the pressure of what was going down at the
The ability of adolescents to be responsible for their actions is at the
heart of the Supreme Court decision. The swing vote belonged to Justice
Anthony Kennnedy, who argued in the majority opinion that juveniles differ
from adults in their lack of maturity and susceptibility to negative
influences and peer pressure. Their character is not as fixed as that of
an adult, Kennedy reasoned.
He concluded that all those factors combine to make underage violent
criminals less culpable for their acts than adults.
The court majority also drew on the fact that since only 19 states allow
the execution of juveniles, the practice is in the minority and imposition
of such sentences constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment." Likewise,
most nations find the state-sanctioned killing of defendants for crimes
committed as juveniles beyond the bounds of civilized behavior. Justice
Kennedy acknowledged "the overwhelming weight of international opinion
against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the
understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people
may often be a factor in the crime."
Texas leads the nation in putting prisoners to death, and Harris County
contributes most to the ranks of those given the ultimate sentence. With
over 450 inmates on Texas' death row, the latest Supreme Court action has
limited impact on the state's power to take a life as punishment for a
University of Houston Law Center professor David Dow, founder of the Texas
Innocence Network, calls the latest ruling a small step in the right
direction toward ending capital punishment in the United States. He points
out that the Supreme Court is following the lead of the states in banning
the execution of juveniles and the mentally retarded, while the question
of what happens to death row inmates who are mentally ill remains
Gov. Rick Perry, a staunch supporter of capital punishment unrestrained by
limits on age and mental condition, promptly promised Texas would abide by
the ruling and vowed to sign legislation that would rewrite Texas law to
conform to the Supreme Court ruling. Regardless of one's opinion of
capital punishment for adults, all Texans can welcome the fact that they
will no longer share with a handful of tyrannical Third World countries
the barbaric practice of executing people for crimes committed as
(source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle)
Justice used science to arrive at decision----Justice Anthony Kennedy's
landmark decision to spare young killers draws on scientific research as
well as the law.
The briefs read like doctoral theses on adolescent development, with
charts and graphs and references to longitudinal studies. They're as much
about science as they are about the law, and in the Supreme Court's
decision to outlaw executions for child killers, they played a pivotal
As much as Justice Anthony Kennedy relied on constitutional analysis to
reach the court's ruling in Tuesday's landmark decision, he also banked on
volumes of research -- much of it recent -- that was submitted to the
court by the scientific community to persuade the justices that youthful
minds are fundamentally different.
"We've seen extraordinary strides in research and in the technological
capacity to conduct that research, and that has fundamentally changed the
way we view youth," said Marsha Levick, the legal director at the Juvenile
Law Center, a national advocacy group for juvenile offenders. "There's
real science to draw on now, and I think it's an important moment in legal
and constitutional history that the court now recognizes that."
As more is learned about the brain, Levick said, its development is better
understood. When the court last considered juvenile executions in 1989 and
left 16- and 17-year-olds eligible, much of that data wasn't available.
But now, new research -- some involving magnetic resonance imaging of the
brain -- has shown that critical parts of the mind develop later than
previously believed, robbing even late-year teenagers of the impulse
control and decision-making ability of people just a few years older.
"Emerging from the neuropsychological research is a striking view of the
brain and its gradual maturation, in far greater detail than seen before,"
the American Psychiatric Association said in its brief to the court.
"Although the precise underlying mechanisms continue to be explored, what
is certain is that, in late adolescence, important aspects of brain
maturation remain incomplete, particularly those involving the brain's
Kennedy said the evidence in the studies led to the conclusion that the
punitive justifications for the death penalty apply to youth with lesser
force than adults. It also obliterates the justification for the death
penalty's retributive motivations.
Levick said the high court is not the first to use research to justify
"Most states won't let them get tattoos, or get married, or even go to a
tanning salon without parental consent," Levick said. "It's indisputable
that nationwide we now think of youth as distinct."
(source: Miami Herald)
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