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Sentencing/Post Conviction

Group Files Suits on Behalf of Lifer Teens

Posted Mar 21, 2008 11:51 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A group headed by death-penalty opponent Bryan Stevenson is focusing on life-without-parole sentences for youths who were teens when they committed their crimes.

The group, the Equal Justice Initiative, has filed suits in six states and one federal court challenging such sentences, Reuters reports.

One of the defendants the group is representing is Ashley Jones, who was 14 when she killed two family members in Alabama. She and her boyfriend were angry because her family disapproved of their relationship. They killed Ashley’s grandfather and aunt and wounded her grandmother and 10-year old sister. They set two of the victims on fire, stabbed all of them, and shot three of them.

The group is citing a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roper v. Simmons, that bars execution for those who murder before the age of 18. The decision noted that juveniles are less mature and more likely to be rehabilitated. Lawyers say the same reasoning applies to life sentences.

Nineteen states permit "life-means-life" sentences for those under 18 but such sentences are rare elsewhere in the world, Stevenson says.

"These kids have been swept up in this tide of carceral control that is unparalleled in American history," he told Reuters. "We have become quite comfortable about throwing people away.”

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