Battleboro (Vermont) Reformer
October 13, 2004

Too young to die?

One night in 1993, Shirley Crook was awakened by 2 burglars in her

Missouri home. She was bound with duct tape. She was dragged out of the

house. And, still alive and conscious, she was tossed from a railroad

trestle into a river where she died.

Anglers found her body and within 2 days Christopher Simmons confessed

to committing the crimes with a friend. A jury later convicted him of

murder and a judge sentenced him to death.

The law didn’t deem him mature or responsible enough to vote, buy

cigarettes, drink alcohol, drive or get married in some states, but it

did consider him old enough to be executed.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether it’s appropriate for

Simmons, who was 17 at the time, to pay the ultimate price.

While we think Simmons, and other minors who commit heinous acts, should

be punished, we think it is wrong to kill young people — even if they

are young people who have killed.

If the high court agrees, it will be a landmark victory for child and

human rights advocates, but it will also be a win for death penalty

opponents, who view the possible ruling as one more way to curtail the


Vermont banned capital punishment in 1964. Like a handful of other

states, officials here recognized the law as fallible, unfair, arbitrary

and often racially discriminatory.

38 states still issue death sentences, however, and there are nearly 3,500 death row inmates across the country right now.

We hope that someday the high court will change that, too. For now,

we’re advocating for the 72 death row inmates who committed crimes when

they were between the ages 15 and 17.

Those who support the death penalty for juveniles say 16- or

17-year-olds who kill are culpable, aware of their actions and should be

tried as adults. Five states have taken this position in filings with

the high court: Alabama, Delaware, Oklahoma, Virginia, Utah and, of

course, Texas, which claims 13 of the country’s 22 juvenile executions

since 1974.

However, their protests seem like whispers next to those opposing

executing minors: The American Medical Association, the American

Psychiatric Association, the Children’s Defense Fund, religious leaders,

attorneys general from 8 states and 48 nations have weighed in with

their own legal briefs.

They argue that law prohibits behavior for teens because they are not

wise enough to understand the consequences of their actions and,

similarly, the law should prohibit death sentences for people too young

to fully realize what they do.

They point to psychological studies which offer evidence that teenagers

cannot control impulses, are subject to peer pressure and that their

brains are not mature.

And they note that the United States is one of only five countries that still issue death sentences to minors.

The others? China, Congo, Iran and Pakistan.
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