[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, IND., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Mar 2 10:56:21 CST 2005
A 'vicious generation' spawned push to condemn Texas
Juvenile offenders were infrequent arrivals to Texas' death row until the
1990s, when escalating juvenile violence and a new breed of young killer
prompted a severe reaction from the criminal justice system.
Only 4 Texas juvenile offenders were executed for crimes committed in the
1970s. Ditto for the 1980s, though one inmate from that decade remains on
The turbulent 1990s saw a different story.
An explosion of juvenile crime, including a huge increase in juvenile
homicides, brought the gloves off. Most juvenile offenders currently on
Texas' death row - 25 of 28 - committed their crimes in that decade. Half
of the total occurred from 1994-99.
In this case, Texas mirrored a national trend. Across the country, 76
juveniles were given death sentences during the last half of the 1990s.
That's almost as many as the previous 12 years.
Typically, getting a death sentence for a juvenile offender has been
harder than for an adult, not only because of age but because of a more
limited criminal record. That changed in the last decade.
Experts think the impact of publicity about juvenile crime made its way to
the courthouse. Not only were there more cases to consider, but people had
been shocked by news reports of gang violence, crack wars, drive-bys,
school shootings and youths everywhere with guns.
"You had local news pounding on the issue, so presumably the jury came in
sort of primed to accept the message that the juvenile crime rate is a
problem," said Victor Streib, a law professor at Ohio Northern University
and an expert on the juvenile death penalty. "The arguments in court were
no different than they ever were, but the public awareness of juvenile
What do you think of the Supreme Court's ruling banning the execution of
Good decision; they're too young to vote: ---- 24%
They went too far; it depends on the case:---- 28%
Juveniles should answer for their crimes:----- 48%
Total Votes: 677
Researcher sees aberration
Robert Blecker, a New York law professor who researched the wave of
juvenile killers firsthand, thinks they were a frightening aberration that
had never been seen in society or the criminal justice system.
Blecker spent more than 2,000 hours interviewing young offenders in a
Virginia prison that served Washington, D.C., one of the early venues in
the outbreak of juvenile violence. He said the death sentences that ensued
from their murders were understandable when details of the crimes are
"It was an incomparably vicious generation, so it doesn't surprise me
there were these death penalties," said Blecker, who teaches at New York
Law School. "There was a depraved indifference to human life that I think
has peaked. There reached a point where it got so out of control that even
the older street criminals recognized themselves that they wanted
something better for their younger brothers. The older kids were now
reining in the younger kids."
Dianne Clements, head of the Houston-based victims rights group Justice
for All, said she was disappointed that the court would treat juvenile
offenders with a broad brush instead of letting their crimes be considered
"I was hoping the majority of justices would give credence to the types of
murders that these 16- and 17-year-olds commit," she said, "and understand
how important it is to impose the type of penalties states permit and
(let) juries decide, instead of turning their backs on innocent victims
No state will be more affected by Tuesday's ruling than Texas, which leads
the nation by far in sentencing juvenile offenders to death, even though
state law permits only 17-year-olds to be considered.
Texas' 28 juvenile offenders on death row is double that of Alabama, the
only other state in double digits. Alabama, which allows 16-year-olds to
receive death sentences, has never executed any of its juvenile offenders.
Texas has executed 13. No other state has more than five juveniles on
No comfort for families
For those familiar with Texas' willingness to use capital punishment, such
numbers are hardly surprising. Its 338 executions since the resumption of
capital punishment in 1977 - more than 1/3 of all those carried out in the
United States - have earned it worldwide distinction.
Many are not sad to see that distinction end, at least with respect to
"Up until today, I think there were six nations in the world that executed
people for crimes they committed as children - including China, Saudi
Arabia, Republic of Congo and Iran," said Jim Marcus, director of the
Texas Defender Service, which handles the appeals of a number of Texas
death row inmates. "So it's about time that the United States conformed to
the criminal justice standards of the Western Hemisphere."
For the families of victims, however, the argument for standards pales
beside their pain and outrage.
"They were certified as adults, they should be executed like adults," said
Adolph Pea, whose daughter Elizabeth and her friend Jennifer Ertman were
murdered in 1993 by a gang of teenagers that included three juveniles.
"Let those guys up in D.C. worry about whether they knew what they were
doing. I know my 16-year-old knew what they were doing."
The reasons behind the rise in juvenile homicides in the early '90s - the
reaction to which may be indirectly responsible for Tuesday's court ruling
- will be debated by social scientists for years.
Blecker said several factors played a role. The first was a widely
observed phenomenon: the flight of the minority middle class from
communities that had previously been segregated. When the merchants and
dentists and postal workers left, the only people with money were those
involved in crime.
Of greater influence, he said, was an epidemic of abuse of crack and
marijuana soaked in PCP. The drug culture seized control of a sizable
segment of youth.
Its assumptions - kill or be killed, no one makes it past 21, live
entirely for the moment - went hand in hand with violence. The drugs
themselves left the teens feeling both invulnerable and paranoid, a lethal
As the epidemic waned, the killings dropped. And so did death sentences.
There have been only 22 in the last five years and only two in Texas.
Sentencing rate declines
Streib, however, said only some of that decrease should be attributed to
fewer killings. In recent years, he said, the practice of executing
juvenile offenders has become less palatable for society. Death penalty
opponents have campaigned steadily against it, increasing their effort
after the Supreme Court banned execution of the mentally retarded in 2002.
"The (death) sentencing rate is much, much lower than the (juvenile)
homicide rate," Streib said. "There has been a lot of campaigning against
the juvenile death penalty. It's sort of out of favor politically now. And
whether they face the death penalty depends on what the local prosecutor
wants to do."
High court's death ruling 'a footnote'
When I called anti-death penalty lawyer David Dow yesterday to talk about
the U.S. Supreme Court decision barring execution as a punishment for
crimes committed by minors, I expected 2 reactions from him.
The first was exhilaration at the decision.
The second was long-term pessimism about the prospects of doing away with
the death penalty altogether.
Dow is a law professor at the University of Houston and head of its
You'd think an anti-death penalty activist living in the Death Penalty
Capital of the World (a.k.a. Harris County) would celebrate victories
exuberantly and then fade back into the slough of despond.
I was wrong on both counts. His reaction to the decision was that it was
expected, and even a bit disappointing.
"Four of the justices have been saying that they want to do away with the
death penalty for some time," he said. "I think there was a sense that if
they didn't think they could get a 5th vote on juvenile executions, they
wouldn't have taken the case."
In fact, Dow said, he had hoped the vote would be 6-3 rather than the 5-4
that came down.
Death penalty's death?
"I think it's a little surprising that Justice (Sandra Day) O'Connor voted
with the minority," he said.
Dow welcomed the decision, but not with exuberance.
"I welcome it as someone who has 3 clients who will benefit from it," he
said. "I also view it as a decision that, when the history of the rise and
fall of the death penalty is written in another decade or so, I think this
case will be a footnote."
Did we hear that right? Does Dow think the death penalty will have fallen
in another decade or so?
"Let me put it this way," he said. "I have a 4-year-old boy. By the time
he's ready to go to law school, I don't think we'll have the death penalty
(I wonder if the Supreme Court would consider it cruel and unusual for him
to sentence a 4-year-old to law school.)
Dow noted that the Supreme Court was already nibbling away at the death
It earlier outlawed executing the mentally retarded (with Justice O'Connor
in the majority). Now it's removed convicts who committed their crimes
before their 18th birthday.
Curing to kill
"There's one more peripheral issue," he said. "In the near term the court
will have to address mental illness. It's a bigger problem than mental
An example is Andrea Yates. Nobody says the woman who drowned her children
after conversations with Satan is not mentally ill.
But with the help of a highly paid expert witness, Harris County
prosecutors were able to convince jurors that she was sane under Texas law
at the moment she committed the crime.
The DA's office sought the death penalty, but the jury gave her life in
Actually, the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that insane people could not be
But in a footnote, one member of the five-justice majority wrote that if
the convict could be "cured" he could be executed.
So some psychotic inmates have been medicated so that they could be
Dow thinks that after the Supreme Court deals with this bizarre side
issue, it will go to the issue of whether the death penalty itself is
"cruel and unusual." But it will only do so, as it has in the retardation
and juvenile issues, because society has led the way.
The basis of the court's decision on those issues was that most states had
quit executing retarded persons and juveniles, rendering it "cruel and
unusual." Dow says support for the death penalty itself is a mile wide and
a half-inch deep.
"That's hard to see in Harris County, but even in Texas many district
attorneys now seek the death penalty much less often than they could," he
And 2 years ago, a poll of Texans found that 41 percent thought executions
should be halted while a number of issues were studied.
69 % said they believed innocent people had been executed. Still, 76 %
said they supported the death penalty.
Dow says, however, that the expressions of concern show a dwindling depth
of conviction for the death penalty. If that's true in Texas, it's more
true in other states.
The likely scenario, says Dow, is that most of the other states will quit
executing criminals. Then the Supreme Court will stop Texas from doing it.
And his kid will have to go into a different area of the law.
(source for both: Houston Chronicle)
One more rise in the tide against America's tragedy
Somewhere William J. Brennan is smiling. Not a face-splitting beam, you
understand, because four members of his beloved Supreme Court still
believe it's just fine to execute 16- and 17-year-olds. But a pleased,
reflected gleam, nonetheless, because the death penalty is one small step
closer to being removed as the scourge of a civilized nation that should
Thurgood Marshall and Harry Blackmun are, somewhere, smiling too. But I
focus on Brennan because it was he, who in 1989 near the end of his 34
years as an associate justice, wrote the blistering dissent as the Supreme
Court upheld capital punishment for adolescents.
Brennan featured in his erudite opinion many of the concepts that seemed
settled in Supreme Court analysis until the wrecking crew of William
Rehn-quist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas came along. "Evolving
standards of decency." "Contemporary attitudes." "Proportionality."
Brennan also skewered Scalia's "misplaced disdain" for scientific
evidence, which in the plurality opinion Scalia had sought to ridicule as
Well, let's hear it for the "ethicoscientific."
Because in good measure, that, along with those pesky evolving standards,
is exactly what 5 justices relied on Tuesday, in Roper v. Simmons, to rule
that executing 16- and 17-year-olds violates the constitutional
prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
As a leader of the American Psychiatric Association, one of several
medical groups that favored banning juvenile executions, noted Tuesday,
the decision acknowledges "that the brains of adolescents function in
fundamentally different ways than the brains of adults."
It is an especially important ruling for Texas, which is home to more than
one-third of the nation's death row population in under-18 cases.
It is also another rebuke to the death-penalty zealotry of much of the
state's political establishment.
Their enchantment with executing juveniles put them in a very narrow
league that included, until his recent dethronement, Saddam Hussein.
In a nice turn of history, as well as a symbol of how close was the vote,
the latest opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a member of
Scalia's plurality 15 years ago.
Sadly and inexplicably, the new majority did not include Justice Sandra
Day O'Connor, who 3 years ago joined 5 other justices in striking down the
death penalty for the mentally retarded.
O'Connor attempted - and failed - in a dissenting opinion Tuesday to parse
why the social, medical and legal analyses that applied and were
persuasive enough to her in the mental retardation case (Atkins v.
Virginia) were not met in Roper.
Oh, well, opponents of the death penalty may have to learn to live with
5-4, assuming even that narrow count can be maintained if President Bush,
a death-penalty enthusiast, gets to make a Supreme Court nomination.
Little by little, since it reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the
Supreme Court has whittled back the administration and application of
To the Scalias of the world, the idea of "evolving" standards or, even
worse to them, an "evolving" interpretation of the Constitution, is some
sort of perversion (unless, of course, it gets them to their political
But as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a concurring opinion joined by
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, if the meaning of the Eighth Amendment "had
been frozen when it was originally drafted, it would impose no impediment
on the execution of 7-year-old children."
I'd hesitate to see that proposition brought to a vote in the Texas
Legislature as currently constituted.
The Roper case is "a small tsunami," said Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia
University professor of law and public health. "It's not a 30-foot wall of
water but a 2-foot wall. But that still is changing the landscape."
Opponents of the death penalty must acknowledge the narrowness of the vote
that produced Tuesday's welcomed result in Roper but also recognize the
modestly advantageous lay of the land.
"Proponents of the death penalty haven't had a win in a long time," Fagan
The Roper case, he said, represents "a small tide but an inexorable one."
The remainder of the journey is not likely to be short or easy or without
setbacks, but with each step and at every turn it will be worthwhile.
(source: Houston Chronicle -- Craig Hines is a Houston Chronicle columnist
based in Washington, D.C.)
Ruling to have profound effect on Texas
For almost 12 years, Melissa Pena has waited for the execution of five
gang members who raped and killed her teenage daughter and a friend and
left their bodies to rot in a Houston field. On Tuesday, she learned that
day would never come.
"They should die for what they did to my daughter. This is not right,"
A closely divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that it's unconstitutional
to execute juvenile killers, ending a practice in Texas and 18 other
states that has been roundly condemned by many of Americas closest allies.
The 5-4 decision throws out the death sentences of about 70 juvenile
murderers, 28 of whom are on Texass death row. It also bars states from
seeking to execute minors for future crimes, saying such executions
violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The high courts ruling will not affect any cases from Galveston County.
The only two people on death row from Galveston County are Gaylon George
Walbey Jr. and Robert Alan Shields Jr.
Walbey was 18 in 1993 when he beat and stabbed to death his former foster
mother, Galveston College instructor Marionett Beyah. Shields was 19 in
1994, when he beat and stabbed Friendswood neighbor Paula Stiner to death.
County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk said the only capital
murder defendant awaiting trial in Galveston County who could have been
affected was Thomas Justin Thomas. Thomas was 17 when his grandparents
were killed in their Texas City home, and he was charged in their deaths.
Sistrunk said prosecutors had already decided not to seek the death
penalty in his case, however.
"The decision to seek death should be beyond reproach, giving proper
consideration to age, mental retardation, mental state at the time of the
offense, or whatever the next unknown limiting factor may be," he said.
22 of the people put to death since 1976 were juveniles when they
committed their crimes; 13 of them were in Texas.
The ruling triggered cries of outrage from Texas victims' rights
activists, victims relatives, as well as renewed demands for a moratorium
on the Texas death penalty - a demand Republican Gov. Rick Perry
But Perry asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to review the
states cases affected by the Supreme Court ruling.
At least two bills pending before the Legislature would prohibit the
execution of violent offenders under the age of 18.
"If a bill that brings Texas law in line with the court's ruling reaches
my desk, I will sign it," Perry said in a prepared statement. "Regardless
of what the Legislature does, however, Texas will abide by the courts
Perry told reporters he would consider signing legislation allowing
sentences of life without parole for juveniles, which is now not an option
for Texas juries. A life sentence in Texas means a defendant is eligible
for parole in 40 years.
Sen. Garnet Coleman of Houston said it was time to end Texas executions,
but Perry replied: "The answer is no."
Among the Texas killers affected by the Supreme Court ruling were:
- Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal of Harris County (Houston), convicted
with three others of the gang-rape and beating deaths of Jennifer Ertman,
14 and Elizabeth Pena, 16. Perez and Villarreal were 17 at the time. Penas
father, Adolph, on Tuesday wore a T-shirt with the girls photos printed on
it. "These people are animals," he said at a news conference held by
Harris County murder victims relatives. "They're the scourge of the
streets. If they get out, they will kill again."
- Robert Springsteen of Travis County, convicted at 17 in 2001 of the
infamous "Yogurt Shop" slayings in which four teenage girls were bound,
gagged and fatally shot in the head at a yogurt shop a decade earlier.
- Jorge Alfredo Salinas, who at 17 carjacked a man in Hidalgo County in
July 2001, fatally shot him in the head, and left the mans 21-month-old
daughter to die of dehydration and exposure strapped in her car seat in a
brush area near the Rio Grande.
11 of the juvenile murderers on Texas death row were convicted in Harris
One of them, Johnnie Bernal, was one day shy of his 18th birthday when he
shot and killed Lee Dilley as he stood outside a Houston drive-in with his
high school prom date.
"Does it make sense that just because he was 17 years and 364 days old
he's going to be spared?" asked Harris County prosecutor Roe Wilson, who
expressed disappointment that the ruling doesnt allow for individual
review of cases.
But Jim Marcus, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said the
decision was long overdue.
"This shows a clear consensus that its really inappropriate," Marcus said.
"It's inappropriate for the same reason that we dont trust juveniles with
the right to vote. Juvenile brain and mental development is just not
A Look At Juvenile Offenders On Texas' Death Row
- 28 Texas death row inmates were under 18 when they committed their
crimes. (A 29th juvenile capital murder convict, Patrick Horn, is first
serving a life sentence in Georgia).
- 13 of the 22 people who were juvenile offenders and were executed since
capital punishment was resumed in 1976 were in Texas.
- 11 of the 28 Texas death row inmates who were juveniles at the time of
their offenses are from Harris County.
(source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
(source: The Galveston County Daily News)
State's option: life in prison----Several killers could be eligible for
parole one day, prosecutors warn
Texas prosecutors said Tuesday that they expect death sentences handed out
to juvenile killers to be commuted to life in prison in response to a
landmark Supreme Court ruling, and some warned that several offenders
could one day be eligible for parole.
"The jurors were wise enough to see that these individuals will be a
continuing threat," said District Attorney James Farren of Randall County
in West Texas. "I hope your loved ones are barricaded behind doors when
these people start walking the streets."
While prosecutors and victims' rights advocates decried the ruling as a
dangerous case of judicial overreach, lawmakers and state officials
scrambled to determine how Texas - with at least twice as many juveniles
on death row as any other state - must respond. Under state law, all
defendants sentenced to life in prison are eligible for parole after
serving a minimum number of years.
The minimum sentence has changed over the years. In 1989, when Mauro
Barraza murdered Vilorie Nelson in Haltom City, it was 15 years. Now, it
Under the U.S. Constitution, laws cannot be enforced retroactively, so the
minimum sentences in place when the offenders were convicted would apply.
Lawmakers began expanding the minimum sentences in the early 1990s, so
most of the offenders would still face decades of prison time before being
eligible for parole.
Parole called a long shot
The state Board of Pardons and Paroles must grant parole, and lawyers for
death row inmates said they do not expect offenders such as Mr. Barraza to
be released anytime soon.
"There is no mandatory release in any of these cases," said Jim Marcus,
executive director of Texas Defender Service, which handles appeals for
defendants convicted of capital crimes. "It is always within the
discretion of Pardons and Paroles, and they are just not releasing
The Board of Pardons and Paroles would have to recommend to Gov. Rick
Perry that the offenders receive life sentences. Mr. Perry stressed
Tuesday that all cases would be reviewed individually, but he indicated
that he expected to commute the sentences.
"It is a pretty bright line that the Supreme Court has drawn," Mr. Perry
said. "If you are 18 or above, you are going to be treated as eligible for
the death penalty. If you are 17 years and 364 days, you're not."
Legislators might move quickly now on measures to revise Texas law and bar
execution of those younger than 18, which have stalled in recent
legislative sessions. But Mr. Perry said that even if the Legislature does
not act, the state will comply with the high court ruling.
The decision continues a recent trend of narrowing the application of the
death penalty, which justices reinstated in 1976. The court in 1988
outlawed executions for those 15 and younger when they committed their
crimes. 3 years ago, justices banned executions of the mentally retarded.
Tuesday's ruling was the result of a Missouri case, but Texas has by far
the most juvenile killers on death row. Harris County is responsible for
11 of the 29 cases.
Texas has also accounted for 13 of the 22 juvenile executions that have
occurred in the United States, said Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston lawmaker
who has advocated bans on executions of juveniles and the mentally
retarded. Only Oklahoma and Virginia have also executed juvenile
"This will take a little of the Wild West out of the Texas criminal
justice system," Mr. Ellis said.
He said the ruling might accelerate lawmakers' willingness to create a
sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
"Many of the people in the past who have opposed life in prison may
re-evaluate their decision now," Mr. Ellis said.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, who has filed a bill that would create life without
parole, said the ruling should compel the Legislature to pass it.
"After this ruling, juries will no longer be able to keep juveniles who
committed heinous crimes off our streets," said Mr. Lucio, D-Brownsville.
"Young persons who commit these crimes are guaranteed to be eligible for
parole when they reach my age or even younger."
Mr. Perry, who would have to sign such a bill into law, was noncommittal.
"The possibility of life without parole will be discussed and debated in
this legislative session," he said. "That is another option with a tougher
penalty, a tougher outcome."
In the past, Texas prosecutors have opposed life without parole because
they worried jurors would be less willing to apply the death penalty if
they knew a killer could spend his life in prison.
Prosecutors did not indicate whether they would change their minds. Harris
County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal cautioned that life without
parole could create a population of hopeless offenders who would be
difficult to manage.
"I believe the board has the wisdom to know when people should be paroled,
and I hope the system works," Mr. Rosenthal said.
Walter Long, an Austin lawyer who represents death row inmate Nanon
Williams, said he was relieved and thankful that the Supreme Court had
effectively spared his client's life.
"I felt confident that this would be the outcome because of the unanimity
of world opinion against this practice," Mr. Long said.
But some lawmakers, prosecutors and victim advocates said the court had
gone too far.
"It appears the 5 in the majority, who are not accountable to anyone, have
indicated that their moral judgment is superior to that of the Texas
Legislature," said Mr. Rosenthal of Harris County.
Dianne Clements, director of the victim rights group Justice For All, was
so outraged by the ruling Tuesday that she said states "should defy the
Supreme Court ruling and continue to have a death penalty for 17-year-olds
in their state statutes."
"The deterrent effect of the death penalty is gone," Ms. Clements said.
"The Supreme Court has put innocent people at risk. Executed killers do
not kill again."
Kathy Bailey, whose sister Elizabeth Peavy was gunned down during a 1994
Houston carjacking, said that victims' relatives could only hope now that
lawmakers embrace the sentence of life without parole.
"My only wish is that we had life without the possibility of parole," Mrs.
Bailey said. "He [the killer] will be out when he's 57 years old."
DEATH PENALTY RULINGS
1972: Furman vs. Georgia. The court rules the death penalty does not
violate the Constitution, but the manner of its application in many states
does. The court noted capital punishment was likely to be imposed in a
discriminatory way and that blacks were far more likely to be executed
than whites. The decision essentially ends the practice of executions.
1976: Gregg vs. Georgia. A Georgia death penalty statute is held
constitutional, a ruling that sets the stage for resumption of executions.
1987: McCleskey vs. Georgia. Justices rule state death penalty laws are
constitutional even when statistics indicate they have been applied in
racially biased ways.
1988: Thompson vs. Oklahoma. The court decides people younger than 16 when
they committed a crime may not be executed.
1989: Stanford vs. Kentucky. Justices uphold the constitutionality of
executions for offenders older than 15.
2002: Atkins vs. Virginia. Justices rule that executing mentally retarded
criminals violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens cites a "national
consensus" against executing a killer who may lack the intelligence to
fully understand his crime.
2005: Roper vs. Simmons. The court rules the Constitution forbids the
execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes,
ending a practice that had been legal in Missouri and 19 other states.
Justice Anthony Kennedy cites a "national consensus" against the practice.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Seeing their case his way
In a gala gathering -- a movie premiere, yet -- dominated by noteworthy
opponents of the death penalty, the center belonged to a quiet man who
believes in capital punishment but has lifted its terrible weight off two
Looking in his blue suit and red tie as if he still commanded the office
he lost last November, Joe Kernan started his talk at Indiana University
School of Law-Indianapolis Monday by praising the documentary "Countdown
to an Execution" that had just been shown to his audience and will air on
A&E March 16.
His only quibble, the former governor said, involved the afterword it
carried about his election defeat, telling a whole nation "I got my ass
Laughter heralded a hero's reception from a crowd of filmmakers;
professors and students from IU Law School and the Center on Wrongful
Convictions at Northwestern University; and criminal attorneys, including
a Chicagoan named Juliet Yackel who worked 12 years to save the life of a
In fairness, no one believes Kernan's decision last August to commute the
death sentence of Darnell Williams to life imprisonment cost him much
against Mitch Daniels, who declined to make an issue of the first death
row clemency issued by a governor in 48 years. (Kernan issued another
commutation, in January, to Michael Daniels.)
Sadly enough, in fact, the topic of capital punishment rarely surfaced at
all during the campaign. And yet this state, one of few outside the South
still killing prisoners, could have 5 or 7 on the gurney this year,
beginning with Donald Ray Wallace, whose death date is March 10.
Wallace slaughtered 4 people -- George and Theresa Gilligan and their
children, Lisa and Gregory -- and has not asked for clemency. But capital
punishment remains on trial.
Aside from the value of an individual life, the motivation of Yackel and
the others shown on film frantically fighting for Darnell Williams as the
days dwindled down was to show that virtually all death penalty cases have
flaws of the severity that drove the governor to spare him and Michael
Always forthright even in his political days, now free of those
constraints altogether, Kernan laid out his own case for mercy as justice.
Since the days when theft was a hanging offense and jails couldn't be
trusted to hold dangerous men, evolution has taken place, he noted.
Prisons are secure. Science can both raise and dispel doubt as never
before. Mental retardation is better understood, as is mental illness. The
horrific childhoods of death row inmates are not dismissed as mawkish
irrelevance. Race and poverty are red flags in condemned populations.
And lawyers and appeals courts screw up.
Besides DNA tests and other evidence feverishly gathered by Williams'
defense team, their low IQs and the lesser sentences handed down to
accomplices justified clemency for both him and Daniels, Kernan said. With
so many such considerations to factor in, he observed, society has moved
"further and further away from any death penalty at all."
Yet he insisted that the supreme punishment must stay alive for the worst
killers. Kernan has felt that way since he went to the scene of a holdup
in 1990 while mayor of South Bend and saw the 3 bodies.
"But my experience as governor has caused me to view it more
apprehensively, with more skepticism," he said. "This is the big leagues.
There are no mulligans, no do-overs."
(source: Indianapolis Star)
Rough Justice----Scalia exposes a flip-flop on the competence of minors.
Dissenting from Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the execution of
juveniles, Justice Antonin Scalia ridicules his colleagues for switching
sides on the basis of "evolving standards." He calls the majority opinion
a "mockery" for supposing that the Constitution's meaning "has changed
over the past 15 years." It's an unfortunate complaint, because the
justice most flagrantly guilty of changing his position on the moral
responsibility of juveniles in the last 15 years is Antonin Scalia.
In the current case, Roper v. Simmons, Scalia goes after his favorite
target, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Never mind that she's on his side.
"She is nonetheless prepared (like the majority) to override the judgment
of America's legislatures if it contradicts her own assessment of moral
proportionality," he writes in a footnote. "The votes in today's case
demonstrate that the offending of selected lawyers' moral sentiments is
not a predictable basis for law."
Next, Scalia targets the author of Tuesday's majority opinion, Justice
Anthony Kennedy. Scalia accuses the majority of "picking and choosing"
studies to support its "unsubstantiated generalization" that juveniles are
too immature to be held fully accountable for murder. "At most, these
studies conclude that, on average, or in most cases, persons under 18 are
unable to take moral responsibility for their actions," Scalia writes.
"Not one of the cited studies opines that all individuals under 18 are
unable to appreciate the nature of their crimes." Therefore, he concludes,
they don't support Kennedy's "categorical prohibition of the death penalty
for murderers under 18."
Abortion figures heavily in Scalia's critique. He tweaks liberals who
think minors are mature enough to make abortion decisions but not mature
enough to deserve execution.
As petitioner points out, the American Psychological Association (APA),
which claims in this case that scientific evidence shows persons under 18
lack the ability to take moral responsibility for their decisions, has
previously taken precisely the opposite position before this very Court.
In its brief in Hodgson v. Minnesota, 497 U. S. 417 (1990), the APA found
a "rich body of research" showing that juveniles are mature enough to
decide whether to obtain an abortion without parental involvement. The
APA brief, citing psychology treatises and studies too numerous to list
here, asserted: "[B]y middle adolescence (age 14-15) young people develop
abilities similar to adults in reasoning about moral dilemmas,
understanding social rules and laws, [and] reasoning about interpersonal
relationships and interpersonal problems."
Scalia then skewers his colleagues for the same flip-flop:
In other contexts where individualized consideration is provided, we have
recognized that at least some minors will be mature enough to make
difficult decisions that involve moral considerations. For instance, we
have struck down abortion statutes that do not allow minors deemed mature
by courts to bypass parental notification provisions. - It is hard to see
why this context should be any different.
It's a clever point. But let's go back to the 15-year-old abortion case
Scalia cited. In Hodgson, the court upheld a Minnesota law that required
notification of both parents before performing an abortion on a girl less
than 18 years old. However, the court also required Minnesota to offer
girls the option of explaining to a judge why they should be allowed to
make the decision on their own. O'Connor insisted on the judicial bypass
as a means of "tailoring" parental involvement laws "to avoid unduly
burdening the minor's limited right to obtain an abortion." She cited a
1976 case in which the court struck down a parental involvement law that
didn't allow the option of "judicial determination that the minor is
mature enough to give an informed consent without parental concurrence."
O'Connor's position, in other words, was that age was too rigid a
criterion. And what's her position in the death penalty context? The same.
She opposes a "categorical prohibition" of death sentences for minors,
since the evidence merely shows "differences in the aggregate between
juveniles and adults, which frequently do not hold true when comparing
individuals. Although it may be that many 17-year-old murderers lack
sufficient maturity to deserve the death penalty, some juvenile murderers
may be quite mature. Chronological age is not an unfailing measure of
Kennedy takes the other side. "All juvenile offenders under 18" should be
exempt from execution due to "lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense
of responsibility," he writes. While conceding that "some under 18 have
already attained a level of maturity some adults will never reach," he
insists that "a line must be drawn. - 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
His position, in short, is that age is an adequate criterion. And what was
his position in the abortion context? The same. In Hodgson, he rejected
O'Connor's insistence on a judicial bypass option. "Legislatures
historically have acted on the basis of the qualitative differences in
maturity between children and adults," he wrote. "Age is a rough but fair
approximation of maturity and judgment."
Scalia derided his colleagues in Hodgson just as he derides them now. "One
Justice holds that two-parent notification is unconstitutional (at least
in the present circumstances) without judicial bypass, but constitutional
with bypass," he wrote, citing O'Connor. "4 Justices would hold that
two-parent notification is constitutional with or without bypass," he
added, citing Kennedy. These and other disputes among the justices, he
concluded, were "the random and unpredictable results of our consequently
unchanneled individual views."
But there's nothing random or unpredictable in Kennedy's or O'Connor's
views on the competence of minors in the two cases. They've held firm. The
only justices who have "changed over the past 15 years" are the one who
switched from O'Connor's side to Kennedy's--Justice John Paul Stevens--and
the two who switched from Kennedy's side to O'Connor's: Chief Justice
William Rehnquist and, you guess it, Scalia. At least Rehnquist and
Stevens have the sense to keep quiet about it. Not Scalia. He's too busy
poking fun at the APA's flip-flop to notice that by taking the opposite
side in both cases, he's flop-flipped.
When Scalia writes that "we have struck down abortion statutes that do not
allow" judicial bypass, and that in so doing "we have recognized that at
least some minors will be mature enough to make difficult decisions that
involve moral considerations," what "we" is he thinking of? It can't
include him. He had a chance in Hodgson to affirm that some minors were
mature enough to make moral decisions. He voted no. And as the evolved
Scalia observes 15 years later, it's hard to see why this context should
be any different.
(source: Slate (William Saletan is Slate's chief political correspondent
and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War)
Court Takes Another Step in Reshaping Capital Punishment
After a decade of relative quiet, the Supreme Court has in the last
several years fundamentally reshaped the nation's capital justice system.
It has narrowed the class of people eligible for execution, excluding
juvenile offenders yesterday as it had previously the mentally retarded.
It has rebuked lower courts for sending people to their deaths without
adequate safeguards. And it has paid increasing attention to the
international opposition to capital punishment.
"Early in the 1990's, we reached the high point in deregulating death,"
said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California,
Berkeley, alluding to decisions in which the court refused to hear
defendants' claims of innocence because they were raised too late. "Then
there was very little from the Supreme Court through the 1990's. Now, in a
whole series of substantive and procedural decisions, you have a
re-regulation taking place."
Opinions vary about where the process will end.
"The trend seems to be pushing toward the abolition of capital
punishment," said Rory K. Little, a former Justice Department official who
is now a professor at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. "But it
would be a mistake to predict that these decisions are leading inexorably
to abolition. It could be that they cut out all the edges and leave the
core that everyone is comfortable with."
Since the Supreme Court's decision banning the execution of the mentally
retarded three years ago, lower courts have struggled with how to
determine whether specific defendants should be removed from death row on
that ground. There will be no such problem when it comes to juveniles.
All 72 men on death row for murders they committed when they were 16 or 17
will be spared their lives under the latest decision and will instead
receive the harshest punishment available, typically life without the
possibility of parole.
"These people will all spend the rest of their lives in prison," said
Victor L. Streib, a law professor at Ohio Northern University whose
studies of the juvenile death penalty were cited in yesterday's decision.
"Nobody's getting out."
Similarly, people who had faced capital prosecutions for crimes they
committed as juveniles can now be sentenced, at worst, only to life terms.
That group includes Lee Malvo, the teenage sniper serving a life term in
Virginia. Prosecutors in Alabama and Louisiana had wanted to try Mr. Malvo
on capital charges for killings there.
Supporters of the death penalty said they were braced for further,
incremental attacks on the use of capital punishment - whether it should
be applied to the mentally ill, older teenagers and defendants claiming
"The next battle is the mentally ill," said Prof. Robert Blecker of the
New York Law School. Given the decisions on the mentally retarded and on
juveniles, Professor Blecker said, "it has a certain appeal."
Professor Blecker said he also expected opponents of the death penalty to
try to move up the age separating juveniles from adults. In 1988, the
Supreme Court set the line at age 16. Yesterday, it rose to 18.
"The interim attack may be to go after the so-called teenage death
penalty, so they'll go after 19-year-olds," he said. "Then they will
redefine juveniles to say it should extend to those under 21."
Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center, a research group opposed to the death penalty, said he expected
the role of race in capital punishment to re-emerge.
"Among the issues the Supreme Court decided around the same time as the
juvenile death penalty was race and the death penalty," Mr. Dieter said,
alluding to a 1987 decision holding that the disparities between whites
and nonwhites at the time did not offend the Constitution. "They may be
ready to take another look."
Professor Zimring said he also expected more attention on procedural
"The areas to watch for large developments in are the adequacy of
representation of counsel and harmless error," he said. Opponents of the
death penalty are often critical of the quality of appointed counsel for
capital defendants and the willingness of courts to overlook some
prosecutorial misconduct by calling it harmless.
The extended discussion of international opposition to the juvenile death
penalty in Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion may also have
broader implications, legal experts said.
"All over the world, we have been condemned for this," Professor Streib
said. "We've now joined the rest of the world. Maybe the only country that
still does this now is Iran."
David I. Bruck, a capital defense lawyer and the director of the Virginia
Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington and Lee University School of Law,
said many Americans did not realize the strength of international
sentiment on this issue.
"Had the decision gone the other way," Mr. Bruck said, "it would have been
another Abu Ghraib. The outcry around the world would have been simply
Even beyond the debate over the juvenile death penalty, Professor Zimring
said, the embarrassment of being out of step with the rest of the world on
capital punishment generally may have played a significant role in the
"The United States and Japan are in their own small suburb of the
developed world," he said, referring to the two major industrialized
nations that make routine use of the death penalty. "In the last 10 years,
the rest of the world's opposition to the death penalty has become
tremendously important to the rest of the world. Capital punishment in
Europe has become a hotter topic in Europe in 2005 than it was in 1965,
when they were busy abolishing it."
Professor Blecker said that analysis was based on faulty premises.
"The problem is that when you look at the opposition of other nations," he
said, "they're looking at governments and not people. Every European
government which abolished the death penalty did it in the face of
overwhelming political support."
In each of the last 2 years, juries imposed only two death sentences on
Yesterday's decision is consistent with those trends, said Joshua K.
Marquis, a co-chairman of the capital litigation committee of the National
District Attorneys Association.
"It's not a harbinger of the end of the death penalty," Mr. Marquis said,
"but simply an indication that the Supreme Court is becoming more
discriminating, as are prosecutors and juries."
(source: The New York Times)
A high-level commission yesterday began a year-long examination of
violence, sexual abuse, overcrowding and inhumane treatment in U.S.
prisons, in an investigation provoked in part by reports of misconduct by
U.S. corrections officers assigned to serve in military detention centers
The privately organized commission, which has attracted interest in its
work from the Justice Department and key lawmakers, is headed by former
attorney general Nicholas deB. Katzenbach and John J. Gibbons, a former
federal appeals court judge. Its aim is to recommend prison reforms from
local to federal levels after holding at least four public hearings around
Statistics cited by the commission chart growing problems in U.S. prisons,
where the inmate population has quadrupled in the past two decades to more
than 2 million: More than 34,000 assaults were committed by prisoners
against other inmates in a 12-month period covering parts of 1999 and
2000; the number of prisoner assaults against staff in that period was 27
percent higher than the previous 12 months.
More than a million people were sexually assaulted in prisons over the
past two decades, the commission said. 11 inmates died in restraint chairs
in the 1990s. The commission also said corrections officers have reduced
life expectancies and higher rates of alcoholism than other law
Only 3 states -- New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois -- have independent
commissions charged with reporting on prison conditions, and they lack
authority to impose reforms, the commission said. No mandatory national
standards exist for prisons, many of which are now run by private
"We seem to have a gap between our cherished ideals about justice and the
realities of the prison environment," said Katzenbach, who served under
presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. "Despite these numbers
and some compelling evidence of abuse and safety failures . . . there is
little public knowledge about the nature and extent of the problems and
how to solve them."
The 21-member commission includes psychiatrists, criminologists and law
professors; a former U.S. attorney and Tennessee sheriff; a former death
row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence; a former mayor of New Orleans; a
senior California lawmaker; former FBI director William S. Sessions, and
the head of the NAACP's Washington office. It was organized by a New York
group, the Vera Institute of Justice.
Its staff director is Alexander Busansky, a former counsel to Sen. Russell
Feingold (D-Wis.) and Justice Department attorney handling excessive-force
cases involving corrections officers. Its financing comes from the Open
Society Institute, three law firms and a philanthropic group, the JEHT
"We look forward to reviewing the commission's study of this important
area," said R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for civil
(source: Washington Post)
Less Fodder for Death Row
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to bar the execution of juvenile
murderers has come at a pivotal time in this nation's long and agonized
debate over the death penalty.
Unlike in the cases of the 100-plus death row defendants released in
recent years when DNA or other evidence proved them innocent, Christopher
Simmons' guilt was not in doubt. Simmons was 17 and a Missouri high school
junior when he and a friend entered Shirley Crook's house, bound the
46-year-old woman with duct tape, drove her to a state park and threw her
from a bridge to drown in the water below. Before the crime, Simmons
bragged to friends that they would "get away with it" because they were
minors. Soon after his arrest, he not only confessed to Crook's murder but
agreed to perform a videotaped reenactment for police. A jury sentenced
him to death.
The question before the high court was the fairness and propriety of
Simmons' sentence. Capital punishment is reserved for society's worst
offenders, wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for a sharply divided court. But
because teens are still emotionally immature, they cannot be held
responsible in the same degree as adults for their actions, however
unforgivable. For that reason, their execution violates the Constitution's
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," Kennedy wrote. "It is, we conclude, the
age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest."
Tuesday's ruling throws out the sentences of 72 murderers in 12 of the 20
states that permit capital prosecutions of defendants who were under 18 at
the time of their crimes. California law reserves the death penalty for
offenders 18 and over.
Opinion polls show Americans softening in their support for the death
penalty. Learning that so many innocent defendants spent years on death
row before being exonerated has shaken many death penalty proponents.
The high court's new ruling comes three years after it outlawed the death
penalty for the mentally retarded. Both decisions were pointedly grounded
in what the court describes as a changing national consensus on capital
punishment. But, as with the headline-making exonerations, those decisions
magnify as well as reflect the public's doubts. Add in many other obvious
inequities - name a rich person awaiting execution, for one - and death
row is increasingly revealed for what it is: a dumping ground for the
poorest defendants with the lousiest lawyers rather than the most
(source: Editorial, Los Angeles Times)
Ruling reflects U.S. unease on capital punishment issue
As it reversed itself yesterday on the question of executing teenage
criminals, the Supreme Court further limited the scope of capital
punishment in the United States and reflected what in recent years has
been a growing uneasiness with the death penalty on many fronts.
Just 15 years ago, the nation's high court ruled in a case from Kentucky
that states could execute killers who were 16 or older when they committed
But in raising the minimum age to 18 yesterday, the court continued to
narrow how the death penalty is carried out across the country at a time
when well-publicized accounts of innocent men discovered on death row have
shifted public opinion and left fewer juries willing to impose death
The court in 2002 reversed itself on another death penalty issue, ruling
6-3 that executing the mentally retarded is unconstitutionally cruel. In
an unusual statement less than a year later, four justices jumped out
front on the issue of execution of juveniles by publicly calling the
And in a series of decisions, the high court in recent years has demanded
better work from defense lawyers in capital cases - including that of
former Maryland death row inmate Kevin Wiggins, in which the justices
ruled in 2003 that his original lawyers failed to adequately investigate
his personal history for mitigating evidence.
'Reform and restrict'
"I don't think the Supreme Court is going to get too far ahead of the
people," said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center, a Washington research group. "The court is in a state
where they will reform and restrict the death penalty. But they won't take
it over; they won't take it out of the hands of the people."
In yesterday's decision, there were signs that the court is not prepared,
at least for now, to open the door to a broader ban on capital punishment.
The court's decision was closely divided, 5-4, and Justice Sandra Day
O'Connor - who three years ago joined the 6-3 decision that ended
executions for the mentally retarded - said yesterday in dissent that
there should not be a categorical ban on the death penalty for offenders
But legal experts as well as death penalty supporters and opponents say
the Supreme Court generally is following what has been a growing scrutiny
of the death penalty across the country, fueled in part by accounts of
death row inmates who were later exonerated.
>From 1995 to 1999, for instance, judges and juries handed out an average
of 300 death sentences a year, according to statistics compiled by the
Death Penalty Information Center. In 2001, that number fell to 155. In
some states, including Illinois and Maryland, officials imposed temporary
moratoriums on executions in response to concerns about possible innocence
and racial disparity.
Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School who believes the death
penalty should have been preserved for teenage killers, predicted
yesterday that the court will next be confronted with whether to raise the
minimum age for the death penalty to 20 or 21, or to bar capital
punishment for offenders who could fall under the broad category of
"We will see continuing scrutiny of the death penalty," Dieter said. "The
public still supports the death penalty, but it is much more aware that
some mistakes have been made. In the 1990s, [the issue] was: How can we
speed things up? Now we're in a different day on that."
An emerging 'consensus'
In its majority opinion yesterday, the Supreme Court said its shift on the
issue of juvenile executions was driven by what it called an emerging
"national consensus" against the death penalty for teenagers.
The court's slim majority noted that 30 states have banned the execution
of juveniles or outlawed capital punishment altogether. It also drew on
world opinion that is almost uniformly against the practice and new
scientific research suggesting that teenage offenders cannot be held as
responsible as adults for their crimes.
"When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the state can exact a
forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the state cannot
extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of
his own humanity," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority
Kennedy's opinion noted that even the 1989 case in which the court had
upheld the death penalty for teenage killers has been recast.
In the case of Kevin Stanford, who was 17 when he killed a young
Louisville gas station attendant, Kentucky's governor in late 2003
commuted Stanford's sentence to life in prison saying: "We ought not be
executing people who, legally, were children."
The four dissenting justices rejected the notion that a national consensus
has emerged against the death penalty and said that any age restrictions
should be imposed by state lawmakers, not by the Supreme Court.
"Indeed, were my office that of a legislator, rather than a judge, then I,
too, would be inclined to support legislation setting a minimum age of 18
in this context," O'Connor wrote in dissent.
But, she added that without "a clearer showing that a genuine national
consensus forbids the execution of such offenders, this court should not
substitute its own 'inevitably subjective judgment' on how best to resolve
this difficult moral question for the judgments of the nation's
democratically elected legislatures."
A strong dissent
In a separate dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the majority opinion
was based on the "flimsiest of grounds" and that determinations about the
death penalty were best left to individual states, not "the subjective
views of 5 members of this court and like-minded foreigners."
The justices had repeatedly declined to revisit the question of executing
juveniles since the 1989 ruling in Stanford's case. But their hand was
forced in 2003 when Missouri's high court overturned the death sentence of
Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he robbed and killed Shirley Crook.
The Missouri decision was shaped directly by the Supreme Court's 2002
decision barring execution of the mentally retarded. In the majority
opinion yesterday, Kennedy drew parallels.
"The number of states that have abandoned capital punishment for juvenile
offenders since Stanford is smaller than the number of states that
abandoned capital punishment for the mentally retarded, ... yet we think
the same consistency of direction of change has been demonstrated,"
(source: The Baltimore Sun)
At last - Escape from Death Row----A landmark ruling by the US Supreme
Court - banning the execution of criminals who were under 18 when they
committed their crime - will save hundreds of lives.
For Ireland and Rena Beazley, the decision came a little too late. Their
eldest son, Napoleon, was executed in May 2002 for a murder he committed
when he was 17. At the time of his execution by lethal injection, his
lawyer argued for clemency on the grounds that Beazley had been just a
juvenile when he shot and killed a man during a robbery that went wrong.
His pleas were rejected.
Yesterday, the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear Beazley's case,
belatedly agreed with his lawyer when it ruled 5-4 to ban the execution of
prisoners who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. The decision
will spare the lives of up to 70 prisoners being held on death row for
crimes they carried out while still legally children.
"It's good news," Mr Beazley told The Independent by telephone from his
small house in Grapeland, Texas. "Napoleon was 25 when he was executed but
17 at the time of his crime.
"Right now, we know a few people at the [death row complex]. They're
pretty ecstatic right now ... This was the day we were hoping for."
The decision by the Supreme Court represents the conclusion of a long and
protracted battle by death penalty campaigners in the US to end the
execution of juveniles. They have long pointed out that America was one of
just a handful of states including China, Pakistan, Iran and the Congo
that still executed juveniles. Indeed, of about 25 documented juvenile
executions in the past decade, more than half were carried out in the US,
predominantly in Texas. At the same time, several of the previously
mentioned countries were introducing legislation to put an end to the
Amnesty International, one of the leading campaigners on the issue, said
yesterday's decision was "very gratifying". "Last year, we started a
campaign to try to end juvenile executions worldwide by the end of 2005 so
this is a good development," said Kristin Houle, of AI's programme to end
the death penalty. She said that, since 2000, the organisation had
recorded 18 juvenile executions, nine of which were carried out in the US.
In their ruling, the justices said the practice of executing juveniles
violated the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution which prohibits the
"cruel and unusual punishment". Sixteen years ago the Supreme Court had
rejected that notion but, yesterday, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for
the majority, said: "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."
He noted that only 18 of the 38 US states that permit execution allowed
the execution of juveniles and public opinion was moving away from the
practice. The trend, he said, is to abolish the practice because "our
society views juveniles ... as categorically less culpable than the
The court made its ruling in relation to the specific case of Christopher
Simmons from Missouri who was 17 in 1993 when he kidnapped a woman who
lived nearby, tied her up and threw her from a bridge.
The body of the woman, Shirley Crook, 46, was found in the Meramec River
in St Louis County. She had been tied with electric cable, leather straps
and duct tape, had bruises on her body and fractured ribs.
Prosecutors said Simmons had planned to burgle and kill the woman and that
he bragged he would get away with it because of his age.
Simmons had originally been scheduled for execution in May 2002. But he
received an initial stay at almost exactly the same time that Beazley's
appeal for clemency was set aside and he was put to death. The following
year, in August 2003, the Missouri Supreme Court set aside Simmons' death
sentence and instead commuted it to one of life imprisonment. The state
authorities appealed that decision and case was then sent to the US
Supreme Court in Washington which ruled yesterday.
Simmons's supporters said yesterday the child killer was now a remorseful
adult who has worked to end violence. "This is a victory for the nation
but also for us here in Missouri," Rita Linhardt of the Missouri Ban Youth
Executions Coalition, said. "He has grown up a whole lot and has tried to
work with young people. He has realised the mistakes he made and regrets
his decisions that night."
As with all the other juvenile death penalty cases, at the heart of both
Simmons' and Beazley's defences was the argument that, at the age of 17 a
person was less responsible and therefore less culpable for their actions.
When The Independent visited the Beazley family on a sweltering summer day
in 2001, his parents passed around a photograph of their son when he was
aged 13. It was a black and white picture of a young boy, kitted out in a
running vest, baton and a bright innocent smile on his face. His father
said his son had always been a good athlete.
But neither Mr Beazley or his wife attempted to downplay or excuse the
murder their son committed. That took place on the night of April 1994
when Beazley and two friends, Cedric and Donald Coleman set out in Mrs
Beazley's car to the town of Tyler, 60 miles to the north.
Although Beazley had no criminal record at the time, he later admitted he
was involved with selling drugs, in particular crack cocaine. He had also
recently bought a .45 handgun. That night Beazley - president of his
senior year at high school and recently enlisted for the Marines - and the
Coleman brothers tried to "carjack" a Mercedes Benz belonging to John
Luttig, a Korean War veteran and a leading member of Tyler society. Mr
Luttig, 63, was pulling into the driveway of his house with his wife,
Bobbie, when the three teenagers struck.
At some point - the reason to this day remains unclear - Beazley drew his
gun and shot Mr Luttig, father of a federal judge, in the head. He died,
his wife crawled under the car and survived. The three assailants were
arrested seven weeks later and tried separately. The Colemans were first
tried and convicted by a federal court on charges of carjacking. They
received sentences of more than 40 years, though the death penalty was not
The prosecution then used allegedly false testimony from the Coleman
brothers to convict Beazley. Donald Coleman told the court he had told
them: "I'm going back into Tyler to get me a car. I want to see what it
feels like to see somebody die."
In a subsequent affidavit, Coleman said that testimony had been a lie and
he had been coached on what to say by the FBI. "Napoleon didn't mean to
shoot Mr Luttig. He cried all the way home. He was still crying when he
came over to see my brother the next day."
Amid intense international pressure, Beazley won one stay of execution. On
that occasion, his father was at the funeral home finalising arrangements
when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an emergency stay. It, in
effect, gave him another 10 months: he was executed the following spring.
In their ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court also cited as a factor in
their decision the international opposition to the practice of juvenile
execution. That admission is likely to be subject of intense debate within
legal and political circles.
"It is proper that we acknowledge 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," wrote Justice Kennedy.
Anne James, the director of the Virginia-based International Justice
Project, a group that has campaigned for the application of international
law to the US death penalty, said the Supreme Court decision marked a
victory for their efforts. "The ruling refers to the European Union and
the international community's briefs [to the court]," she said. "The US,
in the past few years, was out on its own. Lately, we have reported
executions of juveniles outside of the US but the number of states that do
these executions is going down to the extent that the US was out of step."
But the closeness of the ruling by the Supreme Court underlines the
broader debate about the death penalty within the US. In recent years,
there has been a clear and steady series of measures to narrow the scope
of the death penalty. In 1988, for instance, the court outlawed the
execution of prisoners who were aged 15 and younger when they committed
their crimes. Three years ago, justices banned executions of the mentally
There has also been a slight decline in the overall number of executions,
according to figures collated by the Death Penalty Information Centre. In
2002, there were 71 executions; in 2003 there were 65 and last year there
were 59. The most executions continue to be carried out in Texas which, in
2004, executed 23 people.
A Gallup poll in October in 2004 found support for the death penalty
remained at 66 %. That, however, was down from a high of 80 % in 1994.
The four justices who opposed the ban were Chief Justice William
Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Sandra Day O'Connor. In the
dissent written by Justice Scalia he disputed that there was a clear trend
of declining juvenile executions which justified a growing consensus
against the practice. "The court says in so many words that what our
people's laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter.
The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral
standards," he wrote.
In Texas Mr Beazley was trying to think of the prisoners whose lives will
be spared. "The day that Napoleon's execution was [temporarily] stayed, it
was the same," he said. "It was sweet for us."
GERALD MITCHELL, from Houston, Texas, was executed on 22 October 2001 for
the murder of 20-year-old Charles Marino. He was aged 17 at the time, and
33 when he was executed on 22 October 2001
NAPOLEON BEAZLEY was executed on 28 May, 2002. He was 17 when he killed
John Luttig in Tyler, Texas, in April, 1994. Shortly after his crime, he
told friends it was "the stupidest thing" he had ever done.
GLEN McGINNIS was 17 when he killed Leta Wilkerson, a shop assistant, in a
laundry in August 1990. He was executed by lethal injection on 25 January
2000 in Huntsville, Texas
CHRISTOPHER SIMMONS, from Missouri, was 17 when he was arrested for the
murder of Shirley Crook in 1993, and had been due for execution in 2002.
His was the case heard yesterday
ANZEL JONES, from Texas, was 17 when he was arrested for the 1995 murder
of two women in their home. He was scheduled for execution last April but
granted a stay of execution pending the Simmons decision
EDWARD CAPETILLO, from Texas, was 17 when he was arrested for the murder
in January 1995 of Kimberly Williamson. He too was granted a stay of
execution pending the Simmons verdict
(source: The Independent (UK) )
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