Kansas City Star

January 29, 2004


After deciding to review a Missouri case, the U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to stop death penalty sentences on those who were minors when they committed crimes.

Since 1973, states have put to death more than 20 juveniles. Justice John Paul Stevens rightly labeled such executions “shameful” and Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer agreed. Experts believe a decision in this case will rest with Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy, both of whom previously voted to ban capital punishment for people who are mentally retarded.

The Supreme Court took this case on appeal from Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon. He is challenging a 4-3 Missouri Supreme Court decision last year. That court overturned the death sentence imposed on Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he killed a woman in 1993. The court ordered Simmons to spend life in prison.

If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling, it would reverse its own 1989 decision that allowed states to execute killers who were 16 or 17 years old when they committed capital crimes.

Missouri could have avoided the expense and energy required to litigate this appeal by joining many other states that have abolished the death penalty. At a minimum, lawmakers should adopt a bill (SB 726) that would create a commission to study the death penalty and impose a moratorium on executions. Kansas is considering a similar bill.

The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that people who are mentally retarded cannot be executed. Juvenile executions should be the next to end.


Kansas City Star