[Marxism] Children tried as "adults" and sentenced to life without parole -- "only in Aneriuca"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Oct 17 03:40:03 MDT 2007

Of course, the two people mentioned here, arrested as children and then
proclaimed adults for purposes of trial and sentencing, are Black, as a
Times photo indicates.
Fred Feldman

October 17, 2007
Lifers as Teenagers, Now Seeking Second Chance 

American Exception

Without Parole

This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will examine
commonplace aspects of the American justice system that are actually unique
in the world.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - In December, the United Nations took up a resolution
calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of
parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the
United States the lone dissenter.

Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young
adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison.
According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for
crimes they committed at 13 or 14.

Mary Nalls, an 81-year-old retired social worker here, has some thoughts
about the matter. Her granddaughter Ashley Jones was 14 when she helped her
boyfriend kill her grandfather and aunt - Mrs. Nalls's husband and daughter
- by stabbing and shooting them and then setting them on fire. Ms. Jones
also tried to kill her 10-year-old sister. 

Mrs. Nalls, who was badly injured in the rampage, showed a visitor to her
home a white scar on her forehead, a reminder of the burns that put her into
a coma for 30 days. She had also been shot in the shoulder and stabbed in
the chest.

"I forgot," she said later. "They stabbed me in the jaw, too."

But Mrs. Nalls thinks her granddaughter, now 22, deserves the possibility of
a second chance. 

"I believe that she should have gotten 15 or 20 years," Mrs. Nalls said. "If
children are under age, sometimes they're not responsible for what they do."

The group that plans to release the report on Oct. 17, the Equal Justice
Initiative, based in Montgomery, Ala., is one of several human rights
organizations that say states should be required to review sentences of
juvenile offenders as the decades go by, looking for cases where parole
might be warranted.

But prosecutors and victims' rights groups say there are crimes so terrible
and people so dangerous that only life sentences without the possibility of
release are a fit moral and practical response. 

"I don't think every 14-year-old who killed someone deserves life without
parole," said Laura Poston, who prosecuted Ms. Jones. "But Ashley planned to
kill four people. I don't think there is a conscience in Ashley, and I
certainly think she is a threat to do something similar."

Specialists in comparative law acknowledge that there have been occasions
when young murderers who would have served life terms in the United States
were released from prison in Europe and went on to kill again. But comparing
legal systems is difficult, in part because the United States is a more
violent society and in part because many other nations imprison relatively
few people and often only for repeat violent offenses.

"I know of no systematic studies of comparative recidivism rates," said
James Q. Whitman, who teaches comparative criminal law at Yale. "I believe
there are recidivism problems in countries like Germany and France, since
those are countries that ordinarily incarcerate only dangerous offenders,
but at some point they let them out and bad things can happen."

The differences in the two approaches, legal experts said, are rooted in
politics and culture. The European systems emphasize rehabilitation, while
the American one stresses individual responsibility and punishment.

Corrections professionals and criminologists here and abroad tend to agree
that violent crime is usually a young person's activity, suggesting that
eventual parole could be considered in most cases. But the American legal
system is more responsive to popular concerns about crime and attitudes
about punishment, while justice systems abroad tend to be administered by
career civil servants rather than elected legislators, prosecutors and

In its sentencing of juveniles, as in many other areas, the legal system in
the United States goes it alone. American law is, by international
standards, a series of innovations and exceptions. From the central role
played by juries in civil cases to the election of judges to punitive
damages to the disproportionate number of people in prison, the United
States is an island in the sea of international law. 

And the very issue of whether American judges should ever take account of
foreign law is hotly disputed. At the hearings on their Supreme Court
nominations, both John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they
thought it a mistake to consider foreign law in constitutional cases.

But the international consensus against life-without-parole sentences for
juvenile offenders may nonetheless help Ms. Jones. In about a dozen cases
recently filed around the country on behalf of 13- and 14-year-olds
sentenced to life in prison, lawyers for the inmates relied on a 2005
Supreme Court decision that banned the execution of people who committed
crimes when they were younger than 18.

That decision, Roper v. Simmons, was based in part on international law.
Noting that the United States was the only nation in the world to sanction
the juvenile death penalty, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the
majority, said it was appropriate to look to "the laws of other countries
and to international authorities as instructive" in interpreting the Eighth
Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

He added that teenagers were different from older criminals - less mature,
more susceptible to peer pressure and more likely to change for the better.
Those findings, lawyers for the juvenile lifers say, should apply to their
clients, too.

"Thirteen- and 14-year-old children should not be condemned to death in
prison because there is always hope for a child," said Bryan Stevenson, the
executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents Ms.
Jones and several other juvenile lifers. 

The 2005 death penalty ruling applied to 72 death-row inmates, almost
precisely the same number as the 73 prisoners serving life without parole
for crimes committed at 13 or 14.

The Supreme Court did not abolish the juvenile death penalty in a single
stroke. The 2005 decision followed one in 1988 that held the death penalty
unconstitutional for those who had committed crimes under 16.

The new lawsuits, filed in Alabama, California, Florida, Missouri, North
Carolina and Wisconsin, seek to follow a similar progression. 

"We're not demanding that all these kids be released tomorrow," Mr.
Stevenson said. "I'm not even prepared to say that all of them will get to
the point where they should be released. We're asking for some review."

In defending American policy in this area in 2006, the State Department told
the United Nations that sentencing is usually a matter of state law. "As a
general matter," the department added, juvenile offenders serving
life-without-parole terms "were hardened criminals who had committed gravely
serious crimes."

Human rights groups have disputed that. According to a 2005 report from
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, 59 percent of the more than
2,200 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed at 17
or younger had never been convicted of a previous crime. And 26 percent were
in for felony murder, meaning they participated in a crime that led to a
murder but did not themselves kill anyone. 

The new report focuses on the youngest offenders, locating 73 juvenile
lifers in 19 states who were 13 and 14 when they committed their crimes.
Pennsylvania has the most, with 19, and Florida is next, with 15. In those
states and Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, 13-year-olds
have been sentenced to die in prison.

In most of the cases, the sentences were mandatory, an automatic consequence
of a murder conviction after being tried as an adult.

A federal judge here will soon rule on Ms. Jones's challenge to her
sentence. Ms. Poston, who prosecuted her, said Ms. Jones was beyond

"Between the ages of 2 and 3, you develop a conscience," Ms. Poston said.
"She never got the voice that says, 'This is bad, Ashley.' "

"It was a blood bath in there," Ms. Poston said of the night of the murders
here, in 1999. "Ashley Jones is not the poster child for the argument that
life without parole is too long."

In a telephone interview from the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka,
Ala., Ms. Jones said she did not recognize the girl who committed her
crimes. According to court filings, her mother was a drug addict and her
stepfather had sexually molested her. "Everybody I loved, everybody I
trusted, I was betrayed by," Ms. Jones said. 

"I'm very remorseful about what happened," she said. "I should be punished.
I don't feel like I should spend the rest of my life in prison."

Mrs. Nalls, her grandmother, had been married for 53 years when she and her
husband, Deroy Nalls, agreed to take Ashley in. She was "a problem child,"
and Mr. Nalls was a tough man who took a dislike to Ashley's boyfriend,
Geramie Hart. Mr. Hart, who was 16 at the time of the murders, is also
serving a life term. Mrs. Nalls said he deserved a shot at parole someday as

More information about the Marxism mailing list