The (Louisville, KY) Courier-Journal

March 9, 2004


The case against sentencing 16- and 17-year-olds to death is very strong, but Kentucky law still allows it. House Bill 475 would change that.

Just last week, South Dakota and Wyoming became the 30th and 31st states to abolish the juvenile death penalty. HB 475 would make Kentucky the 32nd.

The argument for executing someone like Kevin Stanford (who was 17 when he committed his especially grisly crime - the torture and murder of gas station attendant Baerbel Poore - is powerful. But Mark Wright, past head of the Kentucky Psychiatric Association, offers an even more compelling response, citing landmark research that shows juveniles are “far less developed than we ever knew.”

Research reported at Harvard Medical School shows that brain development doesn’t end at puberty. “Executive” areas of the brain (where emotions are calmed, impulses controlled, decisions made, abstract ideas processed and multiple tasks handled) may not mature until the early-to-mid 20s. Many laws already recognize that, as Dr. Wright put it, “kids are different.”

Of course, Kevin Stanford was no “kid” when he committed his awful crime, but, at age 17, society didn’t consider him responsible enough to vote, serve in military combat or on juries, make medical decisions, sign contracts, get married, leave home, buy cigarettes or drink liquor. And the public still takes a custodial view of 16- and 17-year-olds. Only 26 percent of Americans support the death penalty for juveniles. Polls say Kentuckians want to eliminate it, by a margin of two to one.

The alliance against the juvenile death penalty includes a wide range of opponents, from children’s and civil rights organizations to legal, medical, religious and right-to-life groups. The United States leads the world in executing juvenile offenders, because nobody else does it. And Kentucky shouldn’t. Pass HB475.


The (Louisville, KY) Courier-Journal