Texas Teen Killer Case Illustrates Dilemmas of Tough Youth Sentencing


Juan Garcia, 20, represents almost 1,900 Texas inmates who were locked up in the state’s prison system at age 17 or younger. He is serving a 99-year sentence for murder, a crime he committed when he was 15, says the Houston Chronicle. He spends his time reframing his court case. The 20-year-old has only a ninth-grade education and the prison library, yet he has zeroed in on issues that have traction with juvenile justice advocates nationwide, such as intimidating interrogation tactics, the controversial practice of trying teenagers in adult court, and inordinately long sentences.

Harris County Assistant District Attorney Natalie Tise says she considered Juan’s history when she agreed to reduce his charge from capital murder – and life in prison without parole – to murder and 99 years. With the slightly reduced sentence, Juan will have a chance at parole and freedom in 2038, when he will be 45. By today’s standards, Juan wasn’t helped much by the plea bargain. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declared life without parole cruel and unusual punishment for juvenile murderers. If Juan isn’t granted what may be repeated parole requests, he will die in prison. What’s important, Tise says, “is the victim’s family deserves justice. And society deserves to be protected. For every person who has had a difficult life and commits a crime, there are 10 more who choose not to go down that path.”

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