Juvenile Life Sentence

In Response to the Human Rights Watch Report entitled The Rest of Their Lives: Life without parole for child offenders in the United States. Found at  http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us1005/

I was blown away by the statistic that over 2,000 juveniles are currently serving a sentence of life without parole in the United States while in the rest of the world there are only 12 cases of juveniles serving the same sentence. It is hard to understand how what seems to be, such a developed country that wants the best for its youth would allow this. If there is any group that can respond to methods of rehabilitation, I think it is the youth. This is even mentioned in the first line of the Human Rights Watch report. Kids should still be held accountable, but research shows they do not have the abilities to always think rationally or look at the long term effects an action will have on their future. No matter how heinous the crime a juvenile has committed, life without the possibility of parole is not the answer. Many kids just need some guidance and shown another direction. As kids, well people in general, mature they generally will gain more rational thinking patterns. Locking a juvenile up for their entire life is telling them they are worthless. Especially since any programs offered in prisons are generally only offered to people who will eventually be released. Placing such a young person in the same facilities as all the older, often harder criminals, is only going to harm them more. They are the prey for many of the older inmates and are often subjected to rape and beatings. How is this in anyway helping the youth or protecting society? Many of the juveniles sentenced to life without parole are first time violent offenders. Many of the case studies presented in the Human Rights Watch report tell the story of a juvenile who received life without parole for being associated in the committing of the offense but not the violent act. Some had no clue their friend was armed or intended to do any harm. Most people go through friendship phases. Shouldn’t these kids be given the opportunity to associate with a better group of people? Many times, had they not been around these friends they wouldn’t have been in this trouble. Many states have mandatory sentencing for these crimes so juveniles transferred to the adult court system have no choice in their sentence. The judge has no options; they must go by the books. I don’t think any state should be allowed to impose a sentence of life without parole on a juvenile.

The following article was in the Chicago Tribune today.  No doubt exists in my mind that this was a heinous crime, but if these boys are found guilty should they face life in prison?

Boys, 14 and 15, face life in prison

If teens guilty in slaying, Wisconsin law dictates sentence

Kenosha teens murder woman for Xbox 

Kawanis N. Trotter, 14, and his cousin Roddee W. Daniel, 15, have been charged with first degree homicide and armed burglary in connection with the murder of Capri Walker. Police say the teens bludgeoned Walker, 51, of Kenosha, to death early Sunday morning before taking her Xbox, jewelry and some coins. Bond for each was set at $1 million. (Tribune photo by David Trotman-Wilkins / September 18, 2008)

The two teenage cousins showed little emotion in separate court appearances as charges were read Thursday accusing them of beating a Kenosha woman to death with a baseball bat before stealing her Xbox video game console and other belongings.

Their ages, however, hung heavily over the proceedings: Just 14 and 15, the boys face mandatory life in prison if convicted under a Wisconsin law that allows anyone older than 10 to be tried as an adult in murder cases.

Roddee Daniel, 15, and Kawanis Trotter, 14, broke into Capri Walker’s home early Sunday and bludgeoned her with a metal bat before taking the game console, jewelry and a small safe, police said. Their bail was set at $1 million Thursday.

“Overall, what’s the value of a used Xbox?” said Kenosha County District Atty. Robert Zapf after the defendants appeared in court. “Small dollars compared to human life.”

Authorities say the cousins were spending the night at Daniel’s home last weekend when they noticed there were no cars in Walker’s driveway. Assuming Walker, 51, and her longtime boyfriend were away, the teens decided to break into the house and look for money, police say.

After the adults in Daniel’s home went to sleep early Sunday, the boys went next door and allegedly forced their way into Walker’s home through a window screen, according to court documents. The teens were armed with a bat and an unloaded gun when they entered the house, police said.

The pair cut power and telephone service to the house before encountering Walker in her basement bedroom and attacking her, authorities said.

Law enforcement officials say each cousin has accused the other of striking the woman six times with the baseball bat.

“There is a dispute between the two defendants as to who inflicted the fatal blows, but both of them were armed,” Zapf said.

After beating Walker, the teens grabbed the Xbox and other items and returned to Daniel’s home, police said. Walker’s boyfriend, who works as a newspaper deliveryman, found her after returning home from his route about 6:25 a.m.

The teens, who both have juvenile convictions on their records, were arrested Tuesday after Kenosha police received a tip on their Crime Stoppers line. Authorities said they were considering charges against at least three other people, including a close relative of the boys, for actions after the slaying.

“It is a heinous offense,” said Court Commissioner Carl Greco at one of the bail hearings over which he presided. “As young as [Trotter] is, the legislature has treated this as a most serious offense.”

The Wisconsin legislature lowered the age limit for adult prosecutions from 12 years to 10 in the mid-1990s, after 5-year-old Eric Morse was dropped to his death from a vacant Chicago Housing Authority apartment window. The boys who dropped him—then 10 and 11 years old—were given the maximum 5-year sentence in juvenile court.

“All the legislation is the result of anecdotal evidence,” said Kenneth Streit, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “There’s no clinical evidence suggesting it’s the right thing to do.”

If the teens are convicted of first-degree intentional murder, they will automatically receive a life sentence. The judge can establish a possible parole date, but early releases are rarely granted in Wisconsin, Streit said.

Though jurors occasionally show empathy for juveniles tried as adults by not convicting them of the most serious charges, Kenosha juries tend to be conservative, said David Celebre, a local defense attorney who is not involved in the case.

“Assuming the charges are true, they probably wouldn’t be sympathetic to a young defendant who killed someone for an Xbox,” he said. “They’ll be thinking more about the victim and her family.”

Even before the killing, Capri Walker’s family had endured tragedy. Three of her four children died young. Two sons died during infancy, and a third committed suicide a few years ago at age 19, friends said.

Walker, who went by the nickname Cappy, was involved in several support groups for parents of deceased children. Through Internet messages boards, e-mails, phone calls and meetings, she helped grieving mothers cope.

“She was like a mentor to most of us because she had been dealing with it the longest,” said Judi Walker, the Louisiana woman who founded the Angel Moms support group.

Though she didn’t have much money, friends said, Walker saved the entire year to attend the Compassionate Friends’ national “Walk to Remember,” a procession that encourages parents to celebrate the lives of their deceased children. Walker would make dozens of foam angels and write the names of her three boys on them, as well as children from her support groups.

She would carry the angels throughout the walk so the children of those who couldn’t attend would not be forgotten.

“She always thought of others first,” said Compassionate Friends member Kristine Lindsey of Zion.

The Racine chapter plans to hold a candlelight vigil outside Walker’s home Friday.

“Loss of life brought us together, and then to lose her, it’s going to be a big void,” Compassionate Friends member Kim Bell said. “No one is going to take her place.”