Senator wants to raise execution age from 16 to 18

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state should not execute people who commit murder when they are under 18, a senator said Tuesday in arguing for raising the eligible age from 16.

State law provides that anyone at least 16 who commits first-degree murder can be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But Sen. Roseanne Bentley, R-Springfield, said people under 18 lack the mental maturity to understand clearly the consequences of receiving the death penalty.

"Adolescents view themselves as invincible," she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The death penalty does not serve as a deterrent to those youth."

Bentley also said 18 is a more appropriate age than 16 because it is the age at which citizens may vote, serve on juries and enter into contracts.

One was executed

Since reinstating the death penalty in 1977, Missouri has sent to death row four people who were under 18 when they committed their crimes.

Only one, Fredrick Lashley, has been executed. He was given a lethal injection in 1993 for a crime he committed 11 years earlier at age 17.

The death sentence of Heath Wilkins, who was 16 at the time of his crime, was reversed by the U.S Supreme Court in 1998. The case of Antonio Richardson, 16 at the time of his crime, was stayed indefinitely by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. A fourth, Christopher Simmons, is on death row for a crime he committed at age 17. The Missouri Supreme Court has not set an execution date for him.

Jennifer Brewer, who is defending Simmons in the 1994 murder of an elderly woman in Fenton, told the committee her client should not have faced the death penalty. "This bill is essential to following the Eighth Amendment to prevent cruel and unusual punishment," Brewer said. "The brain is not developed at 17, even compared to someone who is 18. This was a good example of impulsivity."

Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, was skeptical. "He killed her?" Caskey, a former prosecutor, asked Brewer.

"Yes."

"She's still dead?"

"Yes."

At that point, Caskey ended his questioning of Brewer.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: