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Friday, 10 September 2010
WIFE 'TERMINALLY ILL' | Supreme Court ruling also cited in bid for ex-gov's releasePicture:Lura Lynn Ryan speaks to reporters at the Dirksen Federal Building while attorney Dan Webb, who represents her husband, former Gov. George Ryan, listens. Also pictured is former Gov. Jim Thompson. They are asking a federal judge to grant the early release of George Ryan from prison.
Lawyers for former Illinois Gov. George Ryan are pleading with a federal judge to free him, arguing his wife's terminal illness -- as well as a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision -- should factor into his release.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an honest services law -- which involved some of the charges that faced Ryan. Ryan's lawyers say he has served 34 months of his 78-month sentence and, given the Supreme Court decision, that should be enough.
"George Ryan is now in prison serving time for something that the United States Supreme Court has said is not a crime," Ryan's lawyer, Dan Webb, said after court.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer set a Nov. 1 hearing to weigh whether Ryan should be freed and parts of his conviction overturned because of the decision.
Webb pointed to Ryan's wife, Lura Lynn, who was in court Thursday carrying an oxygen tank that was hooked up to her nose.
"She is terminally ill,'' Webb said. "She has one, two, three years to live.''
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurie Barsella said that prosecutors "strongly and vociferously disagree'' that the Supreme Court decision had a bearing on the Ryan case.
"In our view, this case was all about bribery and kickbacks,'' the exception to the honest services law that was upheld by the high court, Barsella said.
In a filing last week, Ryan's lawyers urged Pallmeyer to release Ryan as lawyers fight over the law, saying there was urgency because of his wife's illness.
The filing cited 10 medical conditions Lura Lynn Ryan suffers from, primarily pulmonary fibrosis. It also said she suffered a mini-stroke while visiting her husband in prison.
"The stress of being away from her husband exacerbates both her physical condition and her depression," they wrote in the filing.
Ryan is 76 and suffers from Crohn's disease, hypertension and heart disease, his lawyers say.
"It's fair to say that George Ryan has a lot of health issues also. He's a very strong man," Webb said. "We told him to hang in there. He's a strong-willed man."
Ryan's son, George Ryan Jr., teared up when Webb described his mother's condition outside the courtroom.
"I miss him a great deal,'' Lura Lynn Ryan told reporters, herself blinking back tears.
Without intervention, George Ryan is scheduled to be released in 2013.
In 2008, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin urged President Bush to grant Ryan clemency. Weeks later, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges.
The Ryans have renewed a clemency request with President Obama, who has not acted on it.
Former Governor George Ryan filed a motion in court late Tuesday to have part of his conviction dismissed. He is citing the Supreme Court ruling regarding Enron's Jeffrey Skilling's case.
According to Ryan's attorneys, under the new ruling, Ryan's conviction is unlawful. George Ryan was convicted in 2006 of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud, and making false statements to the FBI (sound at all familiar?). Not all of these convictions pertain to the honest services laws, so some of the convictions will stay even if he wins this battle. Currently Ryan is serving a 6 and a half year federal prison term in Terre Haute, Indiana.
If Ryan's attorneys are as good as they think they are, he can very well have these convictions overturned. This makes me very angry because after all the effort and money the state put into that 6 month trial in 2006, it seems like a waste. Being that Ryan is getting up there in age (he is currently 76), I almost feel as though the courts will take pity on him. Doesn't seem quite fair does it? If his convictions are indeed thrown out, it is also possible that he will be released from prison to return to the life he once had. I can't help but wonder, will this be yet another slap in the face for Illinois? After last month's trial of Blagojevich, the jury came out hung on 23 of the 24 counts. Can this get any worse?
This new honest services ruling seems to be a bunch of baloney. Just who exactly gave George Ryan honest services? The men/women who showered him with gifts and donations to his campaign? I can't see how that is very honest at all. With this ruling, I expect a lot of politicians in both the United States and Illinois to try and get away with as much as possible and not be able to be prosecuted. This ruling of the Supreme Court can only be deemed as ridiculous in my mind. I am going to sit back and watch this all unfold. My guess is, it won't be pretty and that Ryan's convictions will be thrown out.
The situation for Illinois is only getting worse with these corrupt politicians. George Ryan filing that motion was just one of the many setbacks I can see coming. Hopefully, his convictions will
stick, though I realize it is highly unlikely at this point.
A frail Lura Lynn Ryan attended a federal court hearing Thursday carrying an oxygen canister in a tote bag and with tubes running from it to her nose.
Attorney Dan Webb cited her illness in arguing there's urgency to the request to release the ex-governor while the judge considers a motion to throw out parts of George Ryan's 2006 conviction.
Webb says Ryan's wife has a lung disease and only has "one or two years to live."
The 76-year-old former Republican governor is due for release in 2013. He wants Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to dismiss convictions based on disputed anti-fraud laws.
Pallmeyer will hear arguments Nov. 1.
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
Death row inmate's lawsuit alleges that California corrections officials rushed through the reform process, and that the procedure they sent forward is likely to cause pain.
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
3:32 PM PDT, August 2, 2010
A death row inmate convicted of the 1985 torture and murder of a pizza deliveryman in Glendale asked a court Monday to strike down the state's newly revised execution procedures as illegal and likely to inflict excruciating pain if used on any of California's 700-plus condemned prisoners.
The lawsuit filed by Mitchell Sims, 50, alleges that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation rushed through revisions of the lethal injection procedures and deliberately sought to shut the public out of the process.
Corrections officials approved the changes one day before a May 1 deadline and sent them to the Office of Administrative Law for endorsement. That office endorsed the changes late April 30, allowing the execution plans to move forward to state and federal courts for review.
Executions have been on hold in California since early 2006, when U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel expressed concern that some of the 13 death sentences carried out in the state in the past two decades might have exposed prisoners to unconstitutionally "cruel and unusual punishment."
As in most of the 35 states that allow the death penalty, California used a three-drug method that was intended to anesthetize the condemned prisoner with the first shot, paralyze him with the second and stop his heart with the third.
Fogel was persuaded by expert witnesses who said some of those executed may not have been fully unconscious when they got the painful last injection.
After Fogel ordered reform of the procedures, a task force named by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger initially rewrote the new plan behind closed doors. Marin County Superior Court Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor struck down that rewrite as illegal because the state failed to seek public comment as required by the Administrative Procedures Act.
Corrections officials have spent the last two years tinkering with the procedures to incorporate small changes suggested in some of the more than 20,000 public comments.
Sims, charged with killing Domino's deliveryman John Harrington as part of a cross-country rampage against the pizza company that once employed him, has exhausted all of his appeals, said his attorney, Sara Eisenberg. Only a handful of the 705 on death row are available for execution once the penalty is resumed.
Saturday, 31 July 2010
Associated Press Writer
1:30 PM EDT, July 29, 2010
An undated photo provided by the Virginia Department of Corrections shows Teresa Lewis, 40. On Thursday, July 29, 2010, a Pittsylvania County, Va., Circuit judge set a Sept. 23 execution for Lewis. Lewis was sentenced to death for plotting to have her husband and stepson killed in 2002 so she could collect a $250,000 life insurance policy. Lewis would be the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly 100 years. (AP Photo/Virginia Department of Corrections) (AP/ July 29, 2010)
A judge set a Sept. 23 execution date for Teresa Lewis, 41, the only woman on Virginia's death row. She would be the first woman executed in the state in nearly a century.
Lewis offered herself and her 16-year-old daughter for sex to two men who committed the killings. She provided money to buy the murder weapons and stood by while they shot her husband, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr., 51, and stepson Charles J. Lewis, 25, in 2002 in Pittsylvania County in south-central Virginia.
Lewis rummaged through her husband's pockets for money while he lay dying and waited nearly an hour before calling 911.
The gunmen, Rodney Fuller and Matthew Shallenberger, were sentenced to life in prison. Shallenberger committed suicide in prison in 2006.
Lewis' daughter, Christie Lynn Bean, served five years because she knew about the plan but remained silent.
Lewis' attorney James Rocap III claims Shallenberger said about two years before his suicide that it was him, not Lewis, who planned the killings and that he was using Lewis to get to her husband's money.
"The truth about her involvement in the tragic deaths of Julian and C.J. Lewis does not require or justify her execution, especially in light of the fact that the lives of those who actually gunned down Julian and C.J. were spared," Rocap said.
Lewis would be the first woman executed in the U.S. since Frances Newton died by injection in Texas. Newton shot her husband and two young children to death to collect insurance money.
Lewis would also be the first woman executed in Virginia since 1912, when 17-year-old Virginia Christian died in the electric chair for suffocating her employer.
Women commit about 12 percent of the murders in the U.S. annually, and few ever reach the execution chamber.
Out of more than 1,200 executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 women have been executed. Of the more than 3,200 inmates on death row nationwide, 53 are women.
Women usually don't commit torture murders, they aren't serial killers and often don't have a history of other violent crimes compared with men who get sentenced to death, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. They also typically kill someone they know.
"I think it's those facts, rather than just gender that make the difference," he said.
Lewis' first attempt to kill her husband failed. The plan was for the men to kill her husband as he came home from work and make it look like a robbery, but a car was too close and foiled the plot. A few days later she found out her stepson was coming home on leave from Army National Guard duty, and they decided to wait and kill him, too, so they could get all the insurance money.
Lewis pleaded guilty to capital murder, allowing a judge to determine her sentence. Her attorneys believed she stood a better chance of getting a life prison term from the judge who had never sentenced anyone to death, than from a jury.
In a 2004 interview with The Associated Press, Lewis said she hired the hitmen to escape an abusive relationship. She said she and Shallenberger became lovers and concocted the scheme to murder her husband, who she said was an abusive alcoholic.
In a hearing before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March, Rocap argued that Lewis was too dependent on other people and prescription drugs to have plotted the murders. He said the trial lawyers' failure to raise dependency disorder and drug addiction as mitigating factors at sentencing violated Lewis' constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel.
Rocap said he would appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court and will file a clemency request with Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Friday, 2 July 2010
Melbert Ray Ford Jr. took his last breath on June 9 at 7:27 p.m., more than 24 years after the last breaths of those he murdered. He ate most of his last meal and declined a sedative as well as a prayer request from the prison chaplin at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. His last words were not ones of remorse for his crimes but thanks to his family, friends and loved ones.
According to records from the Newton County Superior Court, Ford and Martha Chapman Matich, 31, had a romantic relationship and when it soured, he began harassing her by phone. Ford spoke to several people about robbing the store where she worked and told at least one person that he intended to kill Martha.
It wasn’t his first time threatening someone. In 1978, he was convicted of terroristic threats and actions and criminal trespassing in Cobb County.
"Finally, Ford met 19-year-old Roger Turner, who was out of a job and nearly out of money," reads a transcript from Ford’s trial. "By plying him with alcohol, and promising him that they could easily acquire $8,000, Ford persuaded Turner to help him. They drove in Turner’s car to Chapman’s Grocery, arriving just after closing time. Ford shot away the lower half of the locked and barred glass door and entered the store. Turner, waiting in the car, heard screams and gunshots. Then Ford ran from the store to the car, carrying a bag of money."
The store’s burglar alarm sounded at 10:20 p.m., according to the transcripts, and when the Newton County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at 10:27 p.m., he reportedly found Martha lying dead behind the counter. She had been shot three times with a .32 caliber pistol. Lisa Renee Chapman, 11, was found in the bathroom. She had been shot in the head but was still alive, sitting on a bucket, bleeding from the head and convulsing. She died later — never able to answer questions about the incident.
Both Ford and Turner were arrested the next day, and Turner confessed first. Ford allegedly told investigators the shooting began after Martha pushed the alarm button. He also at said his trial that he was "too drunk to know what was happening and that it was Turner who entered the store and killed the victims."
Ford was convicted of burglary, possession of a firearm during a crime, armed robbery and murder — for which he was sentenced to death on Oct. 23, 1986.
Cindy Chapman-Griffeth, the mother of Lisa, said in an interview Monday, “I feel like I have been at war, but instead of guns it has been a knife in my heart the whole time.
After the execution, as the sun was setting on the grounds of the prison, she said she felt closure but wished that Ford had admitted what he had done and asked her forgiveness.
Chapman-Griffeth described her daughter as a tenderhearted girl who loved animals, especially horses, and people and was always smiling and laughing. She attended Livingston Elementary School where students still stroll through a wing named in her honor. The young girl dreamed of becoming a teacher one day.
“She liked to learn sign language and speaking to people who were impaired,” said Chapman-Griffeth. “She loved unicorns and walking behind her daddy as he plowed the garden, pushing the dirt between her toes. She loved to help me cook and being a big sister. She was also saved the week before she was murdered at a Bible school at Prospect Methodist Church.”
Martha’s brother Paul described his sister as a quiet, reserved girl who tended to be a follower.
"She always looked for the good in every individual,” he said.
Paul said he met Ford only once, when he came to Georgia in 1985 for his mother’s funeral. He remembered noticing his controlling and manipulative behavior during a meal. Being a Baptist minister, Paul was used to counseling people.
“I took her aside and I told her that he was evil and she needed to put him aside,” said Paul. “She told me that she thought he would change. My sister loved life and looked for the good in everyone. She tried to see the good in this man, or this monster, and thought that maybe she could change him. But as we know, that didn’t take place.”
Martha’s family, who owned Chapman’s Store where Martha and Lisa were killed, knew Ford was abusive throughout their roughly year-and-a-half-long relationship. At one point, he tied her up in the trailer the two shared and burned and tortured her. Martha had to have a police escort home every night after working at the store. Just before her death she moved in with Chapman-Griffeth and her family.
The night of March 6, 1986, Martha and another woman were working at the store, but the other woman went home sick. Lisa was at the store playing with the minnows and crickets sold as bait and didn’t want to leave her aunt alone at the store.
According to the March 23, 1986 edition of The Covington News, Turner confessed that “Ford described killing Lisa Chapman in the bathroom at the grocery. Turner said that Ford told him that she was crouched by the toilet staring at him, so he felt he had to shoot her.”
“She was begging him not to do it in the bathroom where she went to hide,” said Chapman-Griffeth Monday.
When asked what she would say to Ford if given the opportunity, Chapman-Griffeth stumbled.
“I don’t know what I would say to him,” she said. “I’m trying to find peace in my heart and I think this will help. I don’t think the man has any remorse and if he doesn’t I hope he burns 70 times in Hell. He says he’s a changed man but he’s never admitted to doing it.
“Twenty-four years and 32 appeals and he’s never admitted it.”
Paul said that he has forgiven Ford because that’s what God would want him to do.
“Some say the death penalty should not be carried out because those were Old Testament laws, but I still believe to this day that he should pay for what he’s done and therefore, if he is put to death, he has received what he deserves,” said Paul, adding that it would be easier for him to forgive Ford if he admitted to the murders and apologized for committing them.
Although the families of Ford’s victims are in favor of his execution, members of Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty organized vigils protesting capital punishment in cities across the state. About 15 protesters from the organization stood outside of the prison during the execution.
“Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty denounces state killing in our names,” said Vice-Chair Kathryn Hamoudah in an e-mail. “We believe that this ultimate punishment is inhumane, arbitrary in application; perpetuates violence and does nothing to keep our communities safer, nor does it address the needs of victims’ families.”
The group is made up of “a coalition of individuals and organizations with a variety of representation, including those that minister to families of those on death row as well as murder victim family members who oppose the death penalty” according to www.gfadp.org.
"We are here to keep vigil and stand against Georgia's actions in taking the life of Melbert Ray Ford tonight,” Hamoudah said. “We stand unified as we remember the loss of life that brings us together and the victims’ family.”
Katey Brown drove from Macon to the vigil, as she has for five other executions.
"I as a taxpayer and a voter am responsible and this is not what I consider an appropriate way to protect society," Brown said.
Chapman-Griffeth, however, feels differently.
“I think it should be done to him the same way he did it to my daughter and my sister-in-law,” she said of Ford’s execution. “I think lethal injection is too good for him. That night I lost a part of my heart that will never be filled.”
Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown was a deputy at the time of Lisa and Martha’s murder and remembers vividly working with other law enforcement officers to bring their killer to justice.
“I feel that the justice system has carried out its responsibility for ensuring that the victims have justice,” he said. “While their families still live with the horrific memory at least they know that the perpetrator has been brought to justice. Twenty-four years ago other deputies and I had the responsibility of witnessing probably the most gruesome crime of my entire 37 years in law enforcement. Immediately we focused our attention on suspect Melbert Ray Ford and did not rest until we arrested Ford for his careless acts. Today our work is done.”
By SHAILA DEWAN
In late April in a courthouse in Madison County, Ala., a prosecutor was asked to explain why he had struck 11 of 14 black potential jurors in a capital murder case.
The district attorney, Robert Broussard, said one had seemed “arrogant” and “pretty vocal.” In another woman, he said he “detected hostility.”
Mr. Broussard also questioned the “sophistication” of a former Army sergeant, a forklift operator with three years of college, a cafeteria manager, an assembly-line worker and a retired Department of Defense program analyst.
The analyst, he said, “did not appear to be sophisticated to us in her questionnaire, in that she spelled Wal-Mart, as one of her previous employers, as Wal-marts.”
Arguments like these were used for years to keep blacks off juries in the segregationist South, systematically denying justice to black defendants and victims. But today, the practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread and, according to defense lawyers and a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, Ala., largely unchecked.
In the Madison County case, the defendant, Jason M. Sharp, a white man, was sentenced to death after a trial by a jury of 11 whites and one black. The April hearing was the result of a challenge by defense lawyers who argued that jury selection was tainted by racial discrimination — a claim that is difficult to prove because prosecutors can claim any race-neutral reason, no matter how implausible, for dismissing a juror.
While jury makeup varies widely by jurisdiction, the organization, which studied eight Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — found areas in all of them where significant problems persist. In Alabama, courts have found racially discriminatory jury selection in 25 death penalty cases since 1987, and there are counties where more than 75 percent of black jury pool members have been struck in death penalty cases.
An analysis of Jefferson Parish, La., by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center found that from 1999 to 2007, blacks were struck from juries at more than three times the rate of whites.
In North Carolina, at least 26 current death row defendants were sentenced by all-white juries. In South Carolina, a prosecutor said he struck a black potential juror because he “shucked and jived” when he walked.
Studies have shown that racially diverse juries deliberate longer, consider a wider variety of perspectives and make fewer factual errors than all-white juries, and that predominantly black juries are less likely to impose the death penalty.
Excluding jurors based on race has been illegal since 1875, but after Reconstruction, all-white juries remained the norm in the South.
“It really made lynching and the Ku Klux Klan possible,” said Christopher Waldrep, a historian at San Francisco State University and the author of a forthcoming book about a lawyer who was able, in a rare case, to prove jury discrimination in Mississippi in 1906. “If you’d had a lot of black grand jurors investigating crimes, it would have made lynching impossible.”
Back then, judges and prosecutors often argued that blacks lacked the intelligence or education to serve. That such claims persist is evidence, said Bryan A. Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, that jury selection remains largely unscrutinized.
“There’s just this tolerance, there’s indifference to excluding people on the basis of race, and prosecutors are doing it with impunity,” Mr. Stevenson said. “Unless you’re in the courtroom, unless you’re a lawyer working on these issues, you’re not going to know whether your local prosecutor consistently bars people of color.”
In jury selection, potential jurors are first dismissed for cause — reasons like scheduling conflicts or opposition to the death penalty. Then, both sides can ask questions and take turns dismissing jurors using what are called peremptory strikes (the number of strikes varies by state, but it is often enough for one side to eliminate all qualified minorities).
In a 1986 case, Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court ruled that if a pattern of discrimination emerged during peremptory strikes, lawyers must provide nonracial reasons for their strikes. The reason does not have to be “persuasive, or even plausible,” the Supreme Court ruled in a later case in which a prosecutor said he dismissed one black juror because he had long hair, and another because he had a goatee, saying, “I don’t like the way they looked.” It is up to the judge to decide if there was deliberate discrimination.
That is a high bar, defense lawyers say — so high that in Tennessee and North Carolina, there has never been a successful reversal based on Batson.
“Anybody with any sense at all can think up any race-neutral reason and get away with it,” said Stephen B. Bright, a capital defense lawyer in Atlanta.
Prosecutors have claimed to strike jurors because they live in high-crime neighborhoods, are unemployed or are single parents. In one Louisiana case, a judge allowed a black juror to be dismissed because the prosecutor said he “looked like a drug dealer.”
Often, a defense lawyer’s challenge is based on showing that white jurors who answered questions the same way or had the same characteristics were not struck. For example, in the Sharp case, Mr. Broussard said that because one juror was studying to be a minister, she “was not the kind of juror we were looking for.” But a white man who was a minister was allowed to serve.
Mr. Broussard did not respond to requests for comment, but Stephen Wimberly, the first assistant district attorney in Jefferson Parish, said that of more than 2,000 jury trials since 1997, only two had been reversed because of discrimination. “The legal standard is not representation of any race or gender, but the fairness and impartiality of each respective juror,” Mr. Wimberly said.
In one Mississippi case, a black man, Curtis Flowers, was sentenced to death in 2004 for killing four furniture store employees. The jury was made up of 11 whites and one black after prosecutors used all 15 of their peremptory strikes on black jurors. Montgomery County, where the crime occurred, is 45 percent black. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the case, noting that “racially motivated jury selection is still prevalent 20 years after Batson.”
At a retrial, in which prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, the jury of seven whites and five blacks was split along racial lines, resulting in a hung jury. At the second retrial, prosecutors sought the death penalty, which eliminated more blacks from the pool of qualified jurors. The jury, nine whites and three blacks, hung again when one black member declined to convict, said Andre De Gruy, the director of the state’s Office of Capital Defense Counsel.
The Equal Justice Initiative study argues that jury diversity “is especially critical because the other decision-making roles in the criminal justice system are held mostly by people who are white.” In the eight Southern states the study examined, more than 93 percent of the district attorneys are white. In Arkansas and Tennessee, all of them are white.
Bill to allow drug flexibility for executions sent to Henry Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?su
Thursday, 1 July 2010
Murder suspect lost his lawyers after state ran out of money to pay them
Monday’s welcome Supreme Court decision, banning sentences of life without parole for juvenile criminals who do not commit murder, recognizes that children mature and should not be irrevocably punished for a childhood act short of killing. But it also recognizes that nations mature — that standards of justice and constitutional principles change over the centuries and should be reinterpreted by new generations.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a five-member majority, acknowledged that permanent life sentences for juveniles might not have been historically recognized as cruel and unusual punishment but should now be considered unconstitutional because of “evolving standards of decency.”
Justice John Paul Stevens stated the case simply and elegantly in a concurring opinion:
“Society changes,” he wrote. “Knowledge accumulates. We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes. Punishments that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time may, in the light of reason and experience, be found cruel and unusual at a later time.”
That, of course, infuriated the strict constructionists on the court, who said the Constitution’s framers meant “cruel and unusual” to refer to torture and nothing more. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for two other justices, said the court was overstepping its bounds by interpreting the clause to ban disproportionate punishment.
Viewing the case from that 18th-century perspective, however, means ignoring recent scientific evidence showing a fundamental difference between the minds of juveniles and adults. Justice Kennedy, expanding on his landmark 2005 decision that banned the death penalty for juveniles, noted that the brain matures through late adolescence. He said juvenile actions are less likely to be evidence of an “irretrievably depraved character.”
The subject of the case decided on Monday, Terrance Graham, whose parents were crack addicts, participated in a restaurant robbery at age 16 and in a home-invasion robbery at age 17. A Florida judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole in 2005 at a time when the state, overreacting to a rash of juvenile crime, was cracking down on what it considered teenage superpredators.
But the court was hardly ordering his release, or that of the 128 other juveniles like him around the country (mostly in Florida) who are also locked up with no chance of parole. Instead, the court simply gave these prisoners a chance to show that they have matured and been rehabilitated, that years after their crimes, they have, at least, the hope of winning their release. (Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. took a middle position, saying Mr. Graham deserved a shot at parole but declining to endorse a categorical position.)
The majority’s opinion was particularly heartening for its forthright acknowledgment that there are other sources of judicial inspiration beyond the country’s founders. The low number of juvenile criminals sentenced to life without parole for noncapital crimes demonstrates that states, judges, prosecutors and juries have reached a de facto national consensus against the practice, the opinion said.
And, braving the catcalls of nativists, Justice Kennedy also looked to international law to bolster his argument, noting that this form of sentencing had been rejected by countries the world over. Until Monday, the United States was the only country to impose such sentences on its teenagers; thanks to five justices on the court, the world now stands in unanimous agreement.