Is it cruel to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole?

Published: Mar. 21, 2012 at 1:01 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 17, 2012 at 10:28 PM CDT
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Evan Miller was 14-years-old when he was convicted of beating 52-year-old Carl Cannon to death...
Evan Miller was 14-years-old when he was convicted of beating 52-year-old Carl Cannon to death in 2003.

MOULTON, AL (WAFF) - Is it considered cruel and unusual to sentence juveniles charged with capital murder to life without the possibility of parole? That's a question that was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday morning.

It took two hours of debate for Justices to decide where to draw the line on protecting children, even those who have been convicted of murder.

One case discussed was that of Evan Miller, who was 14 when he was convicted of beating 52-year-old Carl Cannon to death in 2003. Moulton Police Chief Lyndon McWhorter worked on that case and one similar to that a few years later.

"I believe they should be held accountable for any crime they commit, especially a heinous crime such as murder," McWhorter said.

Demetrick Young was 15 when he was charged in the 2005 beating and killing of Lawrence County teacher Judy Jester.  He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

"Anytime there is a life taken, there are consequences to be paid," McWhorter said.

So how much time is enough time for a juvenile to serve in prison after being charged with capital murder? McWhorter says the punishment should fit the crime.

"I know firsthand what took place on each of these cases," he said.  "I saw what happened and how these crimes were committed and I'm strongly in favor of the capital punishment they received as standing."

Justices in the U.S. Supreme Court argued if a teen serves life without a chance for parole, it gives them no hope of rehabilitation.  They question whether to ban "die in prison" sentences for everyone under the age of 18 or ban them only for younger juveniles.

"My opinion is when you are younger you make mistakes," McWhorter said.  "However, when you're taking a life that's as serious as it can get.  A simple mistake is running a stop sign and getting a ticket, not taking a life."

We were able to reach out to Judy Jester's son, Chris Nichols, Tuesday to find out what he thought about the Supreme Court debate.

He told WAFF 48 News: "I personally think the severity of the crime should have an effect on the punishment.  Some kids go into certain situations knowing exactly what they plan to do.  When something like this happens, it's a lose/lose situation because both families lose someone they love.  I'm sure that kid didn't plan on killing my mother and he didn't expect her to put up a fight the way she did.  He just bit off more than he could chew.  The motive and the crime should be factors in punishment.  At that age, they know right from wrong."

The court should decide on the Miller vs. Alabama case and a similar case out of Arkansas by the summer.

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