May 20, 2011

Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds a sentence of life-without-parole for 14-year-olds.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:
Omer Ninham was just 14 when he was part of a gang that threw a 13-year-old Hmong boy to his death from the top of a Green Bay parking garage in 1998....

The law that allowed Ninham to be tried and convicted as an adult, and sentenced to Wisconsin's harshest penalty, came as a result of outrage over the fate of an earlier 14-year-old killer. In 1983, Peter Zimmer killed his adoptive parents and brother in Mineral Point, but could only be found delinquent and held until he turned 19, when he was released with a new name and a plane ticket to Florida....

Ninham suffered physical and mental abuse at home, and was regularly drinking alcohol by age 10. He never had a toothbrush until he was put into juvenile detention. His lawyers say he has made great progress in prison.
Here's the opinion. There is a dissenting opinion by Shirley Abrahamson (joined by Ann Walsh Bradley):
Just as society's standards of decency categorically do not allow a juvenile to be sentenced to death, juveniles 14 years old or younger should not be sentenced to death in prison.

Omer Ninham's sentence guarantees he will die in prison without any meaningful opportunity to obtain release, no matter what he might do to demonstrate that the heinous act he committed as a 14-year-old is not representative of his true character. I conclude the death-in-prison sentence subjecting the 14-year-old to "hopeless, lifelong punishment and segregation is not a usual or acceptable response to childhood criminality, even when the criminality amounts to murder."

97 comments:

Fred4Pres said...

Justice Abrahamson makes a valid point--but he still a murderer. So what is the right amount of time before being considered for parol? 40 years? 54 is still relatively young. The murdered boy certainly does not have this option. He is dead.

Do you know what sort of sentences the other boys got? Seems ironic that we might show greater mercy to one who is 17 as opposed to 18 when a crime is committed.

edutcher said...

At what point do teen thugs like this get held responsible for their depradations? Do they really think he didn't know what he was doing?

We're not talking about some poor sheltered youth, we're talking a hardened criminal and, if you excuse all the felons who were abused, most would be walking the streets.

Ann Althouse said...

Life in prison is a much longer sentence for some than for others.

Freeman Hunt said...

The alternative is taking people who have demonstrated a willingness to murder and releasing them to live with the rest of us in a great "maybe he'll get better" experiment.

No thanks.

mccullough said...

This is an issue for the legislature and governor. Judges have no more keener insight into people than anyone else. The dissenters should resign from the bench and run to become a legislator or governor.

TMink said...

"juveniles 14 years old or younger should not be sentenced to death in prison."

Why? Where is the argument? Where is the support for the point? The sentence is just a proclamation without support.

Trey

chuckR said...

Rhode Islanders would suggest that you Google Craig Price. He is a serial killer with a Wiki entry. He was convicted at age 16 of murdering a young mother and her two daughters, plus another woman at another time. As a juvenile, he received a short sentence - 21 and out. Price has been kept in jail only through his repeated assaults on corrections officers and other infractions. It is widely speculated that the corrections officers provoked him, and the general public is, or ought to be, grateful. I don't know what kind of 'path he is, but it is either socio or more likely psycho. Still, the way he has been kept in jail is the wrong way. Better to have it up front and out in the open. Being a young monster shouldn't be a mitigating factor.

Richard Dolan said...

This is the kind of case that the Executive's pardon power was made for. Whether it will be exercised is another matter.

Joanna said...

What's the point of having a different penalty system for children if the degree of the crime negates it? Gah.

During a shows on Privacy vs. Security, Stossel interviewed the parent of a (deceased) college-aged heroin abuser. The parent said the college knew about his child's heroin problem but did not inform the parents due to privacy rules. The parent argued that they should have been informed, because the college kid was JUST A KID. So which is it? Do we penalize kids like adults when they make decisions that have really bad consequences? Do we violate adults' rights and treat them like children when they make decisions that have really bad consequences? Neither? Both? Gah.

Robert Cook said...

How about we start with abolishing the "without chance for parole" from these life sentences?

Who can know who will change for the better in prison, experience remorse and become a truly new person, and perhaps truly earn a place outside prison walls?

Who can know this especially when the murderer is an adolescent, perhaps (but not necessarily) physically mature, but certainly not mentally and emotionally mature?

We have to be clear on what we expect prison to be or do, and this is yet unresolved. Is it to effect penitence among its inhabitants, (the reason prisons are called penitentiaries)? Is it merely to warehouse those we deem dangerous to society...to put them away forever and forget them? Is to wreak revenge against the convicts for their crimes?

Do we want to consider that a 14 year old boy is as hardened and proven a committed criminal as a 45 year old chronic recidivist, and therefore worth no more chance to prove himself or one day be freed than the adult career criminal?

I can certainly find reason to accept harsh sentences for certain offenders, but I am inclined to prefer that we leaven our "justice" with mercy. After all, a society without mercy for thee lacks it as well for me.

Snark said...

Youth is a mitigating circumstance because the adolescent brain is still developing, particularly areas relating to judgement and impulse control. It could be treated like other instances where sentences are adjusted due to influences that are considered temporary and extenuating circumstances.

The Drill SGT said...

Ninham and Crapeau grabbed Vang and swung him over the edge. At the urging of the three others, they let him go and Vang fell to his death.

While Ninham was awaiting trial, he threatened to kill a judge and to rape and kill friends who had talked to police about the crime, and even through his sentencing date


He was always such a good boy.

cahlmeeishmael said...

I'm a Tea Partyer and regard myself as tough on crime. I do not claim to have a completely thought-out position on criminal justice as a law professor might, but life without possibility of parole for a 14-year old makes me cringe. Thirty or forty years without parole is still harsh and would keep him in past the point he's likely to kill again.

I would cringe less had he been 17. I recognize we can't base sentences on whether I or someone else cringes. Criminal law presents a lot of tough decisions. I'm glad I don't have to make them.

Rich said...

It's an old debate in criminal justice circles: do we punish the crime or punish the criminal?  We're mixed up about that.  We punish the criminal (meaning we take into account who the criminal is, and what their circumstances are and have been) in the majority of cases, and in every case where the perp is a juvinile -- except when a crime we deem particularly heinous is involved.  Then we make the logically-indefensible leap of saying because of the crime you committed we will pretend you are something your are not (i.e. an adult) for sentencing purposes.  I don't think it serves us well to engage in this sort of ficton -- to agree to engage in what we all know to be a falsehood because it suits our purposes -- when confronted with a heinous crime.  Logically the crime committed does not bear on who the criminal is.  

I'd prefer it if we were forthright and just said for certain crimes this is the punishment notwithstanding any individual factors which would otherwise be relevant in sentencing.  To do that we would have to admit we are willing to throw out concerns we otherwise think are important, like youth and the circumstances of the perp's upbringing.  

Consider the upbringing factor for a moment.  For adults we generally don't care very much about that, because we think that with age should come the ability to overcome childhood influences, at least insofar as comporting one's conduct with the law is concerned.  For juviniles still being raised in horrendous circumstances we make allowances, and I believe appropriately so. But if a juvinile commits murder we are suddenly unwilling to make those allowances.  But we don't say we are unwilling to make allowances for a child, we assuage our concern over that inconsistency by suddenly discovering you are not a child after all (although we know of course that you really are).

We accept the proposition children are less responsible for their acts than adults.  And then in certain cases we allow the act itself to erase that proposition, and create responsibility for its commission out of thin air.  It makes no sense to say based on the gravity of the crime you will be treated as something you are not -- there is no logical link between the two.  Better, or at least more honest, to admit if the act is sufficiently heinous we are willing to jettison logic to reach the foreordained result we are after.

AllenS said...

His lawyers say he has made great progress in prison.

Well then, keep him there. He'll be a real Einstein in, oh, about 50 years.

Joanna said...

Thirty or forty years without parole is still harsh and would keep him in past the point he's likely to kill again.

Consider the upbringing factor for a moment.

I wonder if prison life teaches one to live like/among/as a criminal... and the longer you live in prison, the more "prison ethics" become your norm... and that makes me wonder if incarcerating someone during the years in which they learn and/or cement their social ethics, ability to discern right & wrong, etc. might actually doom them to become a repeat offender. (Yes, my musings are based in large part on Shawshank Redemption and Oz.)

Do I feel safer with this kid locked up? Sure. (But I'd also feel safer if WI's 14 dems had been penalized for their trip to IL. Tomato, tomahto?)

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

Life in prison is a much longer sentence for some than for others.

Sometimes justice on the inside is a lot better than it is on the outside.

Triangle Man said...

Peter Zimmer's new name is Jovan Anton Collier and he was a fugitive in Florida on a stalking charge in 2009.

Harsh Pencil said...

This is why the NRA fights against bans on armor piercing bullets. You give up on one thing and your opponents just keep on pushing.

That is, the usual objection to the death penalty is that it doesn't make society any safer than life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But look, as soon as you remove the death penalty for minors, the fight is over life without parole for minors.

Once you get a first down, you just try for another one.

reader_iam said...

Rich: Well done.

murgatroyd666 said...

How about we start with abolishing the "without chance for parole" from these life sentences?

I could buy into this if the people who made the decisions about setting possibly reformed sociopaths loose on the world actually had some skin in the game.

How's this? For every convict given parole, there needs to be a sponsor -- ideally someone on the parole board -- who vouches for the convict's reformed personality and who promises to ensure his good behavior for, say, the next ten years.

And then for any crimes that the convict commits while on parole, the sponsor becomes equally guilty, and suffers the same sentence for the crime as the convict would.

Any takers?

junyo said...

We've always held that children aren't tiny adults; they'll children. By definition they don't have the education, maturity or experience to make valid decisions, and thus are legally incapable of being held responsible for certain actions. A 14 year old can sign all the contracts they want or consent to sexual intercourse, legally those actions doesn't really matter because we deem that they are incapable of understanding the consequences of those actions. So as unfortunate as the circumstances here are, it's entirely consistent to say that a 14 year old was incapable of understanding what it meant to commit murder, and was thus incapable of forming the intent that would justify jailing them for the rest of their life.

Sofa King said...

Wow. I actually think execution would be more merciful.

MarkW said...

14 is just too young for a life sentence -- people's brains, personalities, and character are nowhere close to fully formed at that age. Remember this teenage murder?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Perry

Fen said...

14 is just too young for a life sentence -- people's brains, personalities, and character are nowhere close to fully formed at that age.

Oh, well in that case, its okay to just abort him.

;)

Lance said...

It makes no sense to say based on the gravity of the crime you will be treated as something you are not -- there is no logical link between the two.

Here's the logical link...
1. Children don't commit vicious, premeditated murder.
2. This individual committed vicious, premeditated murder.
3. Therefore this individual is not a child.

RuyDiaz said...

Just as society's standards of decency categorically do not allow a juvenile to be sentenced to death, juveniles 14 years old or younger should not be sentenced to death in prison.

1. Who is this 'Society' the Justices talk about and why do her standards of decency affect the Justice system? I'm confused.

2. If anything, the juvenile system is perverse. Individuals who commit violent crimes when very young tend to be both the most violent of violent criminals and the most prolific. The younger they offend, the more dangerous they are.

Geoff Matthews said...

"Ninham suffered physical and mental abuse at home, and was regularly drinking alcohol by age 10. He never had a toothbrush until he was put into juvenile detention."

To me, this just highlights the bleak prospects of rehabilitation.
Which means, even more reason to keep him locked up.

Regardless of the following sentence:

"His lawyers say he has made great progress in prison. "

You'll allow me a certain level of skepticism towards this opinion. Incarceration is, first and foremost, for the protection of society. Rehabilitation does not supersede it.
Look at it this way. He participated in a hate crime.

William said...

Per the background info given by the Drill Sgt at 2:38, this is an extraordinarily bad boy. But for all that I do have some sympathy for him. I don't know anyone who is as impulsive at fifty as he was at fifteen. I suppose there are some who become more evil as they age, but, with the odd exception of the occasional IMF bank president, impulsive acts decline as we age.....If this kid can go through the next thirty or forty years without committing any further offenses, I'd be inclined to treat his case with mercy. Prison is a hothouse environment. If you can survive there without using brutish means, there's a good chance you can make it on the outside. I'd prefer not to live in a society that regards fourteen year olds as incorrigible.

Steven said...

Plenty of people have Ninham's kind of upbringing. All of them were fourteen years old at some point. That almost all of them have not murdered is proof that these factors do not explain away the fact that Omar Ninham murdered.

At some point in the future, of course, he can apply for executive clemency. Since cases like his are so extraordinarily rare, the system hardly requires an institutionalized release procedure to evaluate if he's reformed.

And, incidentally, society's standards of decency, in fact, do allow a sentence of death for juveniles. It is merely that the whims of Justice Kennedy do not.

Freeman Hunt said...

There is a reason that the heinousness of a crime affects whether or not we treat someone as an adult.

Certain, less heinous offenses we are willing to chalk up to youthful indiscretion.

At a certain point of heinousness, however, we conclude that youthful indiscretion isn't the problem and that the perp is too dangerous to be coddled.

While Ninham was awaiting trial, he threatened to kill a judge and to rape and kill friends who had talked to police about the crime, and even through his sentencing date

That's the kind of guy we might look at in the second way.

Additionally, I've never understood how, "His terrible upbringing has mentally ruined him, so we should let him out," is a sound argument.

Rich said...

Lance said:

"Here's the logical link...
1. Children don't commit vicious, premeditated murder.
2. This individual committed vicious, premeditated murder.
3. Therefore this individual is not a child."

I believe your predicate is either wrong or only proves the point I was making. As a purely factual matter, children do sometimes commit heinous acts, up to and including premeditated murder. Your only way our of that is to assume they very thing you're trying to prove, i.e. that someone who does that cannot be a child -- regardless of their age.

And so the question arises whether you believe an 8-year-old is capable of committing premeditated murder. Or a 4-year old. And if they are not that has to be because, as a function of their age, we do not believe they are sufficiently mature to be charged with full responsibility for their actions nor appreciation of the consequences, which is the precise reason we've decided juveniles are to be treated differently. Your alternative I think is to say a 4-year-old is not a child. That I think is difficult to sustain.

Geoff Matthews said...

On second thought, I am willing to consider parole at 50.
At 21? HELL NO!!

RuyDiaz said...

Per the background info given by the Drill Sgt at 2:38, this is an extraordinarily bad boy. But for all that I do have some sympathy for him. I don't know anyone who is as impulsive at fifty as he was at fifteen. I suppose there are some who become more evil as they age, but, with the odd exception of the occasional IMF bank president, impulsive acts decline as we age.....

Let's go through it:

When they are very vicious when young, they tend to be very vicious very often and they tend to stay that way. This is the kind of cat that tends to stay this way past age 50.

I'd prefer not to live in a society that regards fourteen year olds as incorrigible.

I'd prefer to live in a society where other people's wishes don't get innocent people killed, but to each his own, I guess.

Freeman Hunt said...

Further on the topic of heinousness affecting whether or not perps are treated as adults:

For lesser crimes, society is usually willing to roll the dice. You stole things as a teenager? Got in big fights? That's bad, but perhaps you did it out of youthful impulsiveness. We'll roll the dice, let you out, and see if you've matured out of your lawless ways. Maybe you won't have matured, and you'll steal a car or get in a fight at a bar. We'll see.

We are, understandably, less willing to roll the dice on murder.

Rich said...

Freeman Hunt said:

"Certain, less heinous offenses we are willing to chalk up to youthful indiscretion.

At a certain point of heinousness, however, we conclude that youthful indiscretion isn't the problem and that the perp is too dangerous to be coddled."

We don't disagree very much. If we were honest and said this child is too dangerous to ever be let out then we could discuss what sort of environment would be appropriate for their lifetime incarceration. Many would probably be satisfied if they were locked up and incapacitated from further harm to society, but we kept them somewhere other than San Quentin. That discussion doesn't arise if instead of honestly saying "he's too dangerous even though he's a child" we conveniently pretend he's an adult when he isn't.

RuyDiaz said...

Additionally, I've never understood how, "His terrible upbringing has mentally ruined him, so we should let him out," is a sound argument.

It makes sense, once understand the implicit premise they make when saying that.

The two implicit premises are (1) society causes crime, and (2) we must find Cosmic Justice.

Somebody who had a terrible upbringing and goes on to commit terrible crimes is obviously a victim of society. It is only a matter of (cosmic) Justice that we show that poor victim extra mercy.

Freeman Hunt said...

Many would probably be satisfied if they were locked up and incapacitated from further harm to society, but we kept them somewhere other than San Quentin.

I don't know about that. People are smart. It's tough to keep them locked up. That's why prisons are the way they are.

I think that trying a minor as a adult is just a euphemism for "We think this guy is incredibly dangerous, so we can't let him out."

Freeman Hunt said...

It is only a matter of (cosmic) Justice that we show that poor victim extra mercy.

They must block the idea of mercy for future victims from their minds.

Rich said...

RuyDiaz said:

"Somebody who had a terrible upbringing and goes on to commit terrible crimes is obviously a victim of society. It is only a matter of (cosmic) Justice that we show that poor victim extra mercy."

You misapprehend my point. As I indicated very few people have much patience for an adult asking for leniency because of childhood difficulties in the past. This case involves someone who is presently a child and, accepting the representations in the linked article, is going through a hellish childhood in the here and now. And I do not suggest the child be acquitted on that basis, or released any time soon, but that preordaining his bleak future based on the agreed-upon lie that he is an adult is unwise.

Rich said...

Freeman Hunt said:

"I think that trying a minor as a adult is just a euphemism for 'We think this guy is incredibly dangerous, so we can't let him out.'"

I agree. The problem with the euphemism is that it elides the discussion which would follow from "We think this 8-year-old is too dangerous, so we can't let him out," e.g. "Really? An 8-year-old? Is there really no other option?" Instead we get "this 8-year-old is really a 35-year old (nod nod wink wink)."

RuyDiaz said...

They must block the idea of mercy for future victims from their minds.

They do. This is the Broken Window fallacy (it's more of a bias) in a different realm. They see a 14-year old with no future, and wish to help him, but they fail to see the victims that same 14-year-old will hurt if let out.

Freeman Hunt said...

The problem with the euphemism is that it elides the discussion which would follow from "We think this 8-year-old is too dangerous, so we can't let him out," e.g. "Really? An 8-year-old? Is there really no other option?" Instead we get "this 8-year-old is really a 35-year old (nod nod wink wink)."

I think you do get that discussion. That's exactly the discussion that invariably follows. I don't think anyone pretends that the minor is truly older than he is.

Darleen said...

Here's a thought. Sure, let this murderer get parole. And if he commits another crime, the people who vouched for his progress & release sit in the cell next to him.

Lance said...

I believe your predicate is either wrong or only proves the point I was making. As a purely factual matter, children do sometimes commit heinous acts, up to and including premeditated murder.

I don't believe you've read the specifics of this case. The details indicate that this is not a child in any usual sense of that word.

And yes, if an eight- or four-year old threw another child off a 45' parking garage, we'd have to look very closely to determine if that individual was a child or not.

Rich said...

Freeman Hunt said"

"I think you do get that discussion. That's exactly the discussion that invariably follows. I don't think anyone pretends that the minor is truly older than he is."

I disagree. Prosecutors, judges and juries do. Indeed the decision to pretend a child is an adult occurs well before he is convicted of anything, hence the phrase "tried as an adult." Soon as that happens all the procedural protections the juvenile system has in place go out the door. The law pretends he's an adult, and that has consequences.

RuyDiaz said...

You misapprehend my point. As I indicated very few people have much patience for an adult asking for leniency because of childhood difficulties in the past. This case involves someone who is presently a child and, accepting the representations in the linked article, is going through a hellish childhood in the here and now.

And I tell you that, statistically speaking, the facts of the case make this 14-year-old more dangerous than a hypothetical 19-year-old who committed the same act.

And I do not suggest the child be acquitted on that basis, or released any time soon, but that preordaining his bleak future based on the agreed-upon lie that he is an adult is unwise.

This is the same fallacy in a different guise--you recoil at the thought of 'preordaining a bleak future', but letting people like him out destroys the future of innocent people. You just don't know who those peoples are. They are unaware of their future. But your misguided compassion is causing their future all the same.

William said...

I'd be in no hurry to let this kid out and even in thirty or forty years I would take a good, hard look. But that's not to say that there isn't an argument to be made for taking such a good, hard look. Some crimes are unforgivable, but very few of them are committed by children.

Rich said...

RuyDiaz said:

"This is the same fallacy in a different guise--you recoil at the thought of 'preordaining a bleak future', but letting people like him out destroys the future of innocent people."

How many times do I have to say I'm not in favor of letting him out? I'm in favor of honestly saying this child is too dangerous to be let out, and dealing forthrightly with whatever the ramifications of that are. I am not in favor of saying this child is an adult when that is pantently untrue (unless one agrees with Lance that one's status as a child is based on what one does -- more to the point, what one is accused of doing -- and not what one's age is, which is fair enough although I disagree).

William said...

I'd be in no hurry to let this kid psycho out, and even in thirty or forty years I would take a good, hard look. But that's not to say that there isn't an argument to be made for taking such a good, hard look. Some crimes are unforgivable, but very few of them are committed by children.

MarkD said...

When you can bring the victim back to life, we can talk about a less severe punishment.

Lance said...

The law pretends he's an adult, and that has consequences.

Okay, so if Wisconsin changed the law such that 14 year olds like Ninham were tried as juveniles, but could still be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole, would that suit you?

I think you've mistakenly conflated chronological age with maturity, and have therefore concluded that a 14-year old Ninham could not have been responsible for his actions. Please read the opinion. There is absolutely no way a child is capable of what Ninham did.

David said...

He has been sentenced to die in prison unless

(1) a future legislature changes the law and makes him eligible for parole

or

(2) a future chief executive of the state pardons him or commutes his sentence.

Thus there is a remedy here, even though it does not involve judges deciding what the "society" thinks.

The society's thought (to the extent that society can have a thought) is reflected in the statute that permits this sentence. The society also thinks a future governor or legislature can change things if conditions warrant.

Much better than a few judges deciding what society "thinks."

Sofa King said...

What I want to know is this: what kind of moral monster honestly believes that death is worse punishment than life imprisonment?

Give me liberty or give me death. Live free or die. Do our intellectual elite no longer value liberty at least as highly as life itself? I guess that would certainly explain a lot.

Rich said...

Lance said:

"Okay, so if Wisconsin changed the law such that 14 year olds like Ninham were tried as juveniles, but could still be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole, would that suit you?"

That'd help. Along with some standards for what aggravating circumstances have to be shown to justify such a sentence for a juvenile (which I surmise Nimham would likely satisfy).

Gotta get back to work. Thanks to you and the others for the conversation.

RuyDiaz said...

Rich:

Here's what you said in your 4:28 post:

And I do not suggest the child be acquitted on that basis, or released any time soon, but that preordaining his bleak future based on the agreed-upon lie that he is an adult is unwise.

A straight reading of your post would indicate that you do favor letting him out on parole after a extended stay on prison. In addition when you say things like 'bleak future' and 'agreed-upon lie', it is not at all clear that your main objection is to the evasions people make when they make exceptions to the Juvenile system, or to the act itself.

So, when you say 'how many times do I have to say...' that would be 'one', because it is not at all clear that you opposse letting him out on parole down the road.




P.S. I too should be leaving this discussion soon, as real life interferes. Need to hone my software skills before becoming sleepy. Later Althousians.

Dead Julius said...

How barbaric and uncivilized! The original crime was indeed terrible, but society does nothing good in exacting such a horrible punishment from the young man. He will experience orders of magnitude more pain and suffering than what he inflicted. He would be better off if he were sentenced to death, and if he were then executed mercifully quickly.

Anybody who thinks this sentence is appropriate is a monster. And-- wow!-- there are lots of monstrous people in the comments above...

rcocean said...

I think its sad that a 14-year old can't kill someone without serving more than a couple years in prison.

Why ruin a young man's whole life over measly little murder? Lets call it a youthful indiscretion.

I'd say 10 years is enough. In fact if a teenager killed Judge Abrahamson, I'd say 10 months would be sufficient.

Oligonicella said...

Throwing someone out of a building is indicative of one's true nature.

Oligonicella said...

Ann Althouse --

"Life in prison is a much longer sentence for some than for others."

Aphorisms are meant to be pithy. The proper response is usually "So what?"

Irene said...

When I read the dissent today, the first thing that caught my eye was its use of the phrase "death-in-prison sentence."

This is code, just like the phrase "social justice."

When we won't have the dealth penalty to kick around anymore, we can sputter bout "death-in-prison sentences."

Steven said...

But that's not to say that there isn't an argument to be made for taking such a good, hard look.

And conveniently, we have a mechanism for such a look; executive clemency.

He would be better off if he were sentenced to death, and if he were then executed mercifully quickly.

Wisconsin doesn't have capital punishment, and the US Supreme Court wouldn't allow it in this case anyway. "Shot while attempting to escape" would be a solution, but unionized prison guards demand double-time-and-a-half to arrange it.

Oligonicella said...

"Consider the upbringing factor for a moment."

To whomever said that, no.

Giving a criminal consideration for a shitty upbringing demeans the hundreds of thousands of people who have had shitty upbringings and didn't turn to crime.

Try some other pity point.

E.M. Davis said...

Stossel interviewed the parent of a (deceased) college-aged heroin abuser. The parent said the college knew about his child's heroin problem but did not inform the parents due to privacy rules.

If he/she was a better parent, they would already have known about the heroin abuse.

S said...

I think Rich is a little too fixated on the words "adult" and "juvenile". I don't think we're "pretending" a child is an adult when we try him "as an adult". The juvenile justice system is a special case in which we treat young defendants differently from adult defendants. The fact that some young criminals are exempted back into the normal justice system does not mean that anybody thinks they're 35; it's just that, while age is the main factor in determining which system processes a defendant, it isn't the only one.

An ideal system would take into account someone's ability to be rehabilitated without having to make an all-or-nothing decision between treating a 14-year-old the same way as an adult who had committed the same act and allowing him to go free on his 21st birthday. I think the fact that a 14-year-old murderer was egged on by his friends should be more of a mitigating factor than it would be if he were 30. But seven years would seem too light.

If we do have to settle for the all-or-nothing system, I would hope we could try a kid "as an adult" without sentencing him to the same facility as adults, especially if the sentence is less than life without parole.

murgatroyd666 said...

[death in prison] ... This is code, just like the phrase "social justice."

If a right-winger had used an equivalent code phrase, left-wing pundits would be queueing up to use the words "dog whistle" in their commentary as an example of how stupid conservatives are.

Dogs, you see, don't think, they simply react, just as the ignorant minions of the RethugliKKKans do.

Fortunately, "progressives" never resort to the use of code phrases as a substitute for rational thought. Never.

chuckR said...

dead julius

Let me give you another example. Michael Woodmansee at age 16 killed a 6 year old boy just to see what it was like. He concealed the body for 7 years, but was caught when he unsuccessfully tried to strangle a 14 year old paper boy. The 6 year old's cleaned, shellacked skull and some of his bones were found in Woodmansee's room. At age 23 he plea bargained to 40 years for a crime committed at 16. Woodmansee's journal was so disturbing that it has been sealed for more than a quarter century. He was a very good boy in prison and will get out after 28 years - this August. He's still a monster. I'm sure that we could raise bus fare if you'd like to have him as a neighbor.
You simply must have a range of punishment that can keep a Woodmansee - or a Ninham - out of circulation permanently if judge and jury so decide. Call it prison or call it closed psychiatric care, just don't let them out.

George said...

I wouldn't have any more emotion of strapping this asshat to "old sparky" and lighting him up than I would stepping on a bug. He is a cancer to society. Nothing else to do than cut him out.

Seven Machos said...

I have to agree with the bleeding heart liberal here. It's a heinous law if there really is no chance of parole. But, obviously, the previous law was entirely too lenient.

Couldn't there be, you know, a reasonable and just law? Thirty years without parole? Twenty?

Incidentally, if it's not already posted, a search of the kid who got out when he was 19 shows that he didn't reform.

Big Mike said...

His lawyers say he has made great progress in prison.

Would his lawyers agree to share his cell if he is allowed back into society and proceeds to kill another person?

Lawyers are paid to lie about their clients. Regrettable, but that's how I perceive our adversarial system of justice to work. Consequently I -- and I think most other people -- discount anything favorable a lawyer has to say about his or her client.

And if all they can say is that the client is "making great progress" ...

Seven Machos said...

What age do my fellow hard-hearted conservatives consider an age that might be appropriate for less than a life sentence for murder for reasons of fundamental fairness and because there might be a chance at reform?

Eleven? Seven? Two?

Not a rhetorical question. I am genuinely curious.

As for me, I agree that 14 is pushing against the boundary of get-your-shit-together-no-matter-how-crappy-you-think-you-got-it. But it's not quite there yet, totally. Don't you agree?

Skyler said...

Well, it's a good thing Abramson is the minority.

Mel said...

I thought this rather harsh until I read what they did to that poor boy.

Freeman Hunt said...

What age do my fellow hard-hearted conservatives consider an age that might be appropriate for less than a life sentence for murder for reasons of fundamental fairness and because there might be a chance at reform?

There's not a hard and fast age. It's case by case. This case elicits no pity from me for the fourteen year old, aside from the usual pity one has for a neglected child.

Seven Machos said...

It's case by case.

The problem with this is that you, as a conservative, would be quite rightly furious if case by case were the law in so many other areas of law and life. What about if welfare benefits were just case by case? What about lifer-type criminals? What about freedom of speech?

Hard and fast rules are generally better. In this case, I think 14 is a little too young to say you are going to spend your life in prison no matter what.

Freeman Hunt said...

The problem with this is that you, as a conservative, would be quite rightly furious if case by case were the law in so many other areas of law and life.

What are you talking about? Every criminal trial is decided case by case. That's how they do sentencing. There are guidelines and based on the case, you make a determination.

Freeman Hunt said...

And I think you're being incredibly naive about violent people.

The guy grabbed a total stranger from the street and threw him off of a building.

You want to roll the dice on him? I think you're nuts.

Seven Machos said...

There are guidelines and based on the case

I would say what we have is much stronger than guidelines. Moreover, what are the guidelines here? Could we have a guideline that says that we don't put 14-year-old kids in jail for life with no chance whatsoever of getting out?

You know I respect your opinion, Freeman. I just feel like people are grandstanding a little bit here. When this kid is 42, and when time equal to two of his lifetimes have passed, if he is a model prisoner with a G.E.D. and all that, he should have a second chance.

There's a middle ground here that is very reachable.

Freeman Hunt said...

And think of how insane a hard and fast rule about murder sentencing would be. Consider two examples:

Example one: Two teenage boys have a feud. They get into fights. One day, one of them takes the fight too far and kills the other one on purpose.

Example two: A teenage boy kill and cannibalizes a small child because he wants to see what it's like and thinks it will be fun.

That's why criminal cases are taken case by case.

Freeman Hunt said...

Could we have a guideline that says that we don't put 14-year-old kids in jail for life with no chance whatsoever of getting out?

Hell no. Look at that Woodmansee case. That guy was sixteen when he committed his crime, and he should be dead. (The father of the victim, by the way, has vowed to kill Woodmansee upon his release.)

Seven Machos said...

Freeman -- Your first example is second-degree murder. Your second example is first-degree murder. Those are recognized as different crimes and the possible sentences attached are different.

Both of those kids, if they are 14, should have some kind of opportunity to demonstrate that they have changed and should be released after 30 years.

Seven Machos said...

Was Michael Woodmansee 14 when he committed his crimes?

Freeman Hunt said...

Seven, I respect your opinion too. I just don't think it's fair to society to force them to roll the dice on murderers. He's not unjustly imprisoned. He'd killed a stranger. Nobody owes him anything. Would it be nice if he reformed and could later be released? Perhaps, but he's certainly not entitled to that.

Freeman Hunt said...

The second one was a second degree murder charge. The perp was sixteen. If he'd been fourteen, would you want to let him out?

Freeman Hunt said...

Both of those kids, if they are 14, should have some kind of opportunity to demonstrate that they have changed and should be released after 30 years.

The second guy is a sociopath, and you would unleash him onto society if he managed to charm a parole board?

Freeman Hunt said...

Sorry about my many many typos. I am extremely tired. I should go to bed.

reader_iam said...

Is "eligible" for parole necessarily = to "being entitled to" parole (or even "earning,"achieving," or, when it comes down to it, "obtaining" it?)?

It seems to me that these are relevant questions to ask with regard to the debate currently taking place here.

Seven Machos said...

Agree with Reader.

chuckR said...

Woodmansee was sentenced to 40 years and will seemingly automatically get a 12 year reduction for good behavior. He was 16 when he killed and possibly cannibalized a 6 year old. Craig Price was already an accomplished serial killer at age 15, having killed two women and two girls. First kill at age 13. The only thing keeping him in jail past age 21 is his lack of self-discipline.

JimMuy said...

Somehow hundreds of years of Anglo-Saxon civilization got along just fine with the summary execution of all murderers despite low levels of law enforcement personal and weapons of personal protection and yet, us modern and enlightened peoples seem confused as to why crimes keep getting worse and criminals keep getting more brazen. Quite a conundrum and mystery, that.

Seven Machos said...

Somehow hundreds of years of Anglo-Saxon civilization got along just fine with the summary execution of all murderers

This statement is so fundamentally false that it is impossible to know where to start criticizing it.

reader_iam said...

This statement is so fundamentally false that it is impossible to know where to start criticizing it.

Ditto.

So much so, that I'm beginning to think the very point of making such a fundamentally false statement is a strategic attempt to render criticism as tactically impossible as, well, possible.

Florida Lemon Law said...

Do you really think that a five-year sentence is appropriate for throwing a boy off a parking ramp to his death? Do you really think a "kid" of 14 is too young to comprehend what it means to kill, and to be dead? (I'm not talking about at a deep philosophical level; I just mean recognizing that it's not like the cartoons, where Wile E. Coyote keeps coming back to life -- that if you throw someone off a building and the person dies, there's no undoing it, the person's parents have to bury him in the ground and never get to see him again, the person who is killed never gets to grow up and have a life and family of his own, etc.)

And let's assume I agree that LWOP is an extreme sentence for 14, even for murder (as a matter of policy -- as opposed to the Eighth Amendment).

What about 17? I ask because advocates in Illinois used the example of, IIRC, a 17-year-old who raped a much younger girl (11?) and then threw her out the window or off the roof of the housing project where they lived as an example of the injustice of LWOP for under-18 offenders. Seemed like a bizarre choice of poster child.
Florida Lemon Law

crocowill said...

I knew some 14 year olds that grew up in really horrific circumstances.Some of them overcame it and ended up studying successfully at universities.Others strayed down the wrong roads and committed crimes.Some even committed violent crimes like serious assaults etc.They all knew what they were doing.They all deserved some form of simpathy.When you commit a murder however and do it as cruel and callously as this boy and have the audacity to threathen to kill a judge and harm possible witnessess,you know that you are in the presence of real evil.You don t set a potential Charles Manson free in society,regardless of the fact if his 14 or 40 years of age.

Gabriel Hanna said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Bell

Mary Bell murdered two boys when she was ten and eleven.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables murdered a two year old boy they abducted from a mall when they were ten--but not before they thre paint in his eye, kicked and stamped on him, and smashed his head with an iron bar. They inflicted so many injuries on the toddler that it was impossible to tell which killed him.

All three of these murderers were released after a few years, with new identities, because they were so young when they killed.

Ten year olds are not mature, everyone knows it, but they are mature enough to know it is wrong to kill people.

Fourteen-year-olds are not as mature as at 17, everyone knows it. But they are mature enough to know that throwing people off buildings is wrong.

And if you are mature enough to commit murder, maybe you are mature enough to suffer permanent consequences for it.

Teenagers have been heads of household and heads of state, have fought in battles and commanded soldiers. The infantilization of teenagers in our society is a recent development.

peppermintswirlz07 said...

Teenagers can produce children. I know of no other criteria to qualify them as fully developed. Teenagers ARE adults.

The issue isn't their behavior, but ours. When we deny the rights of citizenship to anyone, for whatever reason, it is an injustice and an hypocrisy to then hold them responsible for what they do. We say to teenagers, you're not ready yet to participate, but if you make a mistake, you're going to pay the full price. In my view, this is criminal behavior on our part, one more dishonesty we commit, for the sake of our own convenience. How can we expect teenagers to be upright and forthright, when in effect, we are showing them that we are not.

Perhaps we should lower the voting age to fourteen. It would certainly give the politicians something to think about come re-election time.

Gabriel Hanna said...

We say to teenagers, you're not ready yet to participate, but if you make a mistake, you're going to pay the full price.

No we don't. We say, if you make a mistake you can't be expected to know how to avoid, like signing an adjustable rate mortgage, you're not reponsible, but for THROWING A KID OFF A BUILDING you knew that was wrong and evil when you were about five and you don't have an excuse for doing it.