Willard Jimerson Jr., then 13, was sentenced to 23 years in prison in Washington State 12 years ago for shooting a 14-year-old girl in the back, says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Locked away since 1994, Jimerson, now 25, “remains frozen in early adolescence,” says the newspaper. He has never driven a car, used e-mail or balanced a checkbook. Though he married the sister of a fellow inmate — the two have never been intimate, because conjugal visits are not permitted for prisoners who wed while locked up. For those who enter as children, Jimerson believes, the rule is absurd.
Research on the developing brains of young people has led some legal experts to question the tough stand taken toward children such as Jimerson during the 1990s, when conscienceless youth seemed to be killing just for the thrill of it. Cases like his continue to crop up. A 15-year-old accused of bludgeoning his playmate to death three years ago went on trial this week as an adult and faces 26 years in prison if convicted. In May, a judge could decide that a 13-year-old charged with fatally stabbing his grandmother last month be treated similarly. Since 2000, more than 900 juveniles have been sentenced as adults in Washington. Prosecutors remain convinced that justice was served in the Jimerson case. Last year a MacArthur Foundation study found that many juveniles — particularly those under 14 — are not competent to stand trial; the U.S. Supreme Court, citing that research, abolished capital punishment for all offenders under 18.