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  • Writer's pictureRobin Lyons

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

After this heinous crime occurred, and the court sentenced a teen boy to life in prison without the possibility of parole, his appeal went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

The argument: When sentencing for capital murder convictions and the perpetrator is under 18, there should be options for the severity of the punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed. Read more and see what you think about the original sentencing and/or the second sentencing.

First, a little background on the boy. His parents were drug-using alcoholics, his father physically abused the children, the children were in and out of foster care, and the boy in this case had attempted suicide four times between the ages of 6-14.

On the night of the crime, a 52-year-old neighbor arrived at the boy’s home to purchase drugs from his mother. The boy and a 16-year-old friend followed the neighbor to his home where they smoked marijuana and played drinking games.

After the neighbor passed out, the 14-year-old boy stole the man’s wallet from his pocket and took $300 to split with his friend. When the boy tried to put the wallet back, the man woke and grabbed the boy by his throat. The 16-year-old hit the man with a baseball bat, incapacitating him briefly. Then the younger boy used the bat and repeatedly hit the man. The two boys went back to the younger boy’s home.

Once they considered what they had done, they decided to cover-up their crime, so they set fire to the man’s home. He died from smoke inhalation.

Local authorities arrested both boys and charged them as juveniles. The district attorney petitioned to transfer their cases to the adult system, and the juvenile court agreed. The 16-year-old (at the time of crime) accepted a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to a lesser murder offense. A judge sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. Whereas the younger boy went to trial. His jury found him guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole because they had no other sentencing options.

After the lower courts denied the younger boy’s appeals, his appeal eventually made it to the highest court in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment and guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions. Because of this ruling, the courts re-sentenced many underage offenders.

Equipped with the Supreme Court ruling, the boy, now a 32-year-old man, returned to the state court for re-sentencing. The state judge said,

“When [the man] robbed and savagely beat his neighbor, setting fire to the man’s trailer and leaving his incapacitated victim to die a horrible death, he earned a well-deserved sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

Even though the judge had the option to allow parole and took into consideration the offender’s emotional and developmental immaturity at the time of the crime along with his home life, he still upheld the original sentence based on the severity of the crime.

Source: U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama Attorney General’s Office,, Birmingham Real Time News

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