East Texans Disagree On Death Penalty Decision - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

03/02/05 - East Texas

East Texans Disagree On Death Penalty Decision

by Ramonica R. Jones

In 2002, the Supreme Court decided juries could no longer sentence mentally retarded criminals to die.  Tuesday, the court ruled anyone who commits a crime while under age 18 should also avoid the death penalty.  Supporters of that decision say it's just another step to protect people who aren't fully aware of their actions.

Steve Spencer of Angelina County Juvenile Services said, "I think that there's a maturity level that's achieved between 17 and 18 years old.  It's a developmental milestone that everybody goes through and I think it's a good ruling, a very good ruling."

The ruling means juries can no longer consider the circumstances of the case for sentencing and prosecutors can no longer use the death penalty as a negotiation tool.

District Attorney Clyde Herrington said, "Sometimes a defendant will plead to a life sentence.  If the death penalty threat's not there, they have no incentive whatsoever to plead; so at least in the age group that's affected, it'll increase the number of those cases that go to trial."

Even before Tuesday, anyone 17 and under in Texas could not get the death penalty, even for the most vicious crime.  Tuesday's ruling extends that window another year.

The decision means 28 people who committed their crimes in Texas before their 18th birthday are no longer on death row.

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