Az. Cases Illustrate Teen Death Penalty Dilemma


Levi Jackson, who killed Nancy Arias’s sister, sat in a Tucson courtroom with no sign of repentance. Instead, he extended his middle finger at the prosecutor, at the detective who investigated him, and at Arias and her family, says the Arizona Republic. He has been on death row since 1993; his fate will be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will rule on whether executing juvenile killers is cruel and unusual punishment.

In Arias’s case, “the way I feel about it, the only cruel and unusual punishment in this case was the terrorizing of my sister and the brutal way that they killed her. My entire family, we fought for the death penalty for Levi Jackson, and it’s upsetting to think it might not happen.”

Surveys show that Americans favor the death penalty in general but oppose it for minors. There are five men on Arizona’s death row who murdered before they were 18, but the state has not executed any since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976.

In December 2002, a commission appointed by then-Attorney General Janet Napolitano voted 15-8 to recommend that the law be changed to stop sentencing 16- and 17-year olds to death. The legislature has not changed the law.

The Republic says the issue centers on whether teens’ brains are fully developed and capable of resisting impulse. “As a society we don’t let adolescents consume alcohol, and we have different restrictions on them because we know they don’t have the best judgment,” said Dale Baich, a federal public defender who specializes in death row cases. “And if we view adolescents that way, I think we have to hold that view when we make them eligible for the death penalty.


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