The Tennessean

August 2, 2004


Executing teenagers is just as wrong as executing the mentally challenged.

Dozens of foreign countries, a former president of the United States and a former president of the Soviet Union along with the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association all have said so. Now, it’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court to agree.

The court will decide this fall whether to uphold a Missouri Supreme Court decision that set aside the execution of a 27-year-old man sentenced when he was 17 for the brutal murder of a Missouri woman.

Christopher Simmons was convicted of murder in 1993. He and an accomplice burglarized the home of Shirley Crook whom Simmons bound and gagged before driving around in a minivan. He then pushed her off a railroad trestle to drown in the river. Prosecutors argued that Simmons acted deliberately, planning the crime and bragging about it aloud, rather than acting on impulse as his defenders contended.

But the state Supreme Court justices cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the mentally retarded in 2002 which banned executions because “national consensus” had determined the policy was wrong.

Simmons’ crime was heinous, but he was also 17 years old. There’s plenty of evidence that 17-year-olds aren’t fully developed and thus incapable of making good decisions. A group of some 30 religious organizations have cited that evidence in their briefs to the court.

They aren’t alone with both the ABA and the AMA on their side and former President Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev among others. Other countries, including Canada and Mexico, have expressed their outrage.

The rest of the world can’t understand the U.S. position. We remain the only country that officially permits the execution of juveniles. And the United States does so unevenly at best. Of the 37 states that sentence with capital punishment, only 19 allow juveniles to be executed. Texas accounts for half of all juvenile executions.

The majority of states frown upon the practice. So does the world. That’s not just a consensus; it’s a mandate to end the outrage.


The Tennessean