Casper (WY) Star Tribune

February 19, 2004


Wyoming’s House of Representative is now considering House Bill 5, which prohibits the execution of juveniles.

This measure deserves support, for a number of reasons.

The death penalty should be meted out only to the worst of the worst members of society, if it’s meted out at all. And juveniles who are convicted of murders committed prior to their 18th birthdays rarely could be classified as such. For those rare juveniles who fit into that classification, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is an option.

Currently, Wyoming is one of only 17 states that allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be executed.

Iran is the only other country that specifically allows executions of juveniles, and it hasn’t executed any juveniles since 2001, according to Amnesty International. The most recent juvenile execution in the United States was Scott Allen Hain, executed in Oklahoma on April 3, 2003, for a crime he committed when he was 17.

There were 78 juvenile offenders on death row in the U.S. as of April 2003.

Sixty-nine percent of U.S. adults oppose the death penalty for juveniles, according to a 2002 Gallup poll, and the Supreme Court has ruled that executing persons who committed their crimes while under age 16 is unconstitutional.

Child murderers may not have the capacity or opportunity to learn and understand fully the consequences of their crime. Consider this from an American Bar Association fact sheet: “Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis of New York University led comprehensive diagnostic evaluations of 14 juveniles on death row in four states. She found that nine had major neuropsychological disorders and seven had psychotic disorders since early childhood. …

“Other common characteristics included suffering trauma to the head and IQ scores under 90 (only two did better). Only three had average reading abilities, and another three had learned to read on death row.”

Twelve of the 14 reported they had been abused physically and/or sexually. In several of the cases studied, the accused withheld evidence of their history and other problems fearing embarrassment or because of poor counsel by their attorneys.

Wyoming has no juvenile offenders on death row, and has not in modern times executed anyone who committed their crimes before they turned 18. Banning the practice won’t change anything in the short term. In the long term, it affirms our own humanity.


Casper (WY) Star Tribune