Juveniles News and Developments: 2000

The Georgia Supreme Court granted a stay in the case of Alexander Williams. Georgia, which has not had an execution in over 2 years, was scheduled to execute Alexander Williams in the state's electric chair on August 24, 2000. Williams was only 17 years old at the time of the crime, and is a diagnosed schizophrenic. Williams was represented by an attorney who could not successfully name two criminal cases, and who was later officially removed from the list of those qualified to handle criminal cases. Williams was scheduled for a clemency hearing on August 22, 2000. Under Georgia law, the Board of Pardons and Paroles has the exclusive power to commute his sentence to life in prison. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter wrote to the Board expressing her concern in this case, as did Mariam Wright Edelman, President of Children's Defense Fund. (American Bar Association, August 2000) Visit the ABA Juvenile Justice Center's Web site for more information about the case and to read the letter from Mariam Wright Edelman requesting clemency for Williams.
Amnesty International issued a news release and a report on the Williams case. The report, "Abandoning Justice: The imminent execution of Alexander Williams, mentally ill child offender," notes that if Williams is executed, the United States will have executed more juvenile offenders in just over seven months than the rest of the world combined has executed in the past seven years. (Amnesty International News Release, 8/16/00). The full report can be accessed on Amnesty International's Web site.

On January 25, 2000, Glen McGinnis was executed for a murder committed during a robbery that occurred when he was 17 years old. He had never used a gun prior to this incident and never before been charged with any offense involving weapons. McGinnis was executed in Texas by lethal injection, despite pleas from The Vatican, the European Union, and the American Bar Association.

Steven Roach, who was sentenced to death for a crime he committed when he was 17 years old, was executed on January 13, 2000 in Virginia. Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sane sent a letter to Governor James Gilmore asking him to grant clemency. "We in no way seek to excuse that crime or belittle the suffering it has casued. We seek only Virginia's compliance with international law and global standards of justice," wrote Sane. Gilmore, however, denied clemency.

Douglas Christopher Thomas was executed on January 10, 2000. Thomas was executed in Virginia even as doubts about his conviction developed. Shortly before his execution, witnesses had come forward stating that Thomas' co-defendant, his girlfriend Jessica Wiseman, admitted that it was she who killed her mother, the crime for which Thomas was sentenced to death. Both Jessica and Thomas were juveniles at the time of the crime. Jessica, who was 14 when she solicited Thomas to kill her parents, has already been released. However, Thomas, who was 17 at the time, received the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Thomas' lawyers appeal contending that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the U.S., prohibits the execution of juvenile offenders. Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore denied clemency despite pleas from the European Union and the American Bar Association. (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/11/00)

For the first time in 40 years, a 16-year-old offender was executed in the United States. Sean Sellers was executed in Oklahoma on February 4, 1999. Many people spoke out against the execution, including South Africa's Desmond Tutu, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, the American Bar Association and Bianca Jagger . Sellers had been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, though that wasn't explained to the jury at his trial. The U.S. Court of Appeals held that Sellers may be "factually innocent" of the murders because of his mental illness, but then went on to say that innocence alone is not sufficient to grant federal relief. (Daily Oklahoman, 12/1/98). The last 16-year-old offender executed in the U.S. was Leonard Shockley who died in Maryland's gas chamber in 1959. Virtually all the countries in the world have signed an international treaty which forbids such executions (International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights). The U.S. is the only country to ratify this treaty with an outstanding reservation regarding the execution of juveniles. The Convention on the Rights of the Child also forbids such executions, but the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world which has failed to ratify this treaty.