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01-26-2004, 01:48 PM
Supreme Court to revisit execution of teenage killers

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court, which two years ago abolished executions for the mentally retarded, said Monday it will now consider ending the execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes.

The court said it will reopen the question of whether executing very young killers violates the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." Currently, states that allow the death penalty may impose it on killers who were 16 or 17 at the time of their crimes.

The case, which will probably be decided in the court's next term, continues the high court's reexamination of who belongs on death row and how the death penalty is carried out. The court's calendar for the current term is apparently full, with oral arguments scheduled through April.

The court agreed to hear the case of a Missouri man who was 17 when he robbed a woman, wrapped her head in duct tape and threw her off a railroad bridge in 1993. The state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to send people to their deaths for killings committed when they were younger than 18.

The 4-3 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Christopher Simmons, and sentenced him to life in prison instead.

Four Supreme Court justices are on record opposing the execution of very young killers, but the court has nonetheless stayed on the sidelines of a national and international debate about the practice. The court has turned aside several recent appeals brought by death row inmates challenging their executions for juvenile crimes. The court did not comment in agreeing to hear the issue now, in an appeal brought by state officials.

In 2003, the four-member liberal wing of the court issued an unusual statement calling it "shameful" to execute juvenile killers.

"The practice of executing such offenders is a relic of the past and is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote then. He was joined by Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/012604dnnatscotus.50758.html