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Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Equal Justice Initiative Children to Die in Prison, EJI, 2007

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“The susceptibility of juveniles to immature and
irresponsible behavior means ‘their irresponsible
conduct is not as morally reprehensible as
that of an adult.’ Their own vulnerability and
comparative lack of control over their immediate

Cruel and Unusual:

surroundings mean juveniles have a greater claim

Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old

than adults to be forgiven for failing to escape

Children to Die in Prison

negative influences in their whole environment...
From a moral standpoint it would be misguided

Equal Justice Initiative

to equate the failings of a minor with those of an
adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s
character deficiencies will be reformed.”
U.S. Supreme Court, Roper v. Simmons (2005)

Photo by Steve Liss

Photo by Steve Liss

	 	
Cruel and Unusual:
Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old
Children to Die in Prison

Equal Justice Initiative

The Equal Justice Initiative is a non-profit law organization with offices in
Montgomery, Alabama and New York City.
For more information about this report or EJI, please contact:
Equal Justice Initiative
122 Commerce Street
Montgomery, Alabama 36104
(334) 269-1803
www.eji.org
November 2007

Photo by John Earle

© 2007 by the Equal Justice Initiative. All rights reserved. No part of this publication
may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without
permission in writing from the Equal Justice Initiative.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Executive Summary............................................................................................... 3
Introduction.......................................................................................................... 4
Young Children Are Different:
	 Developmental and Legal Distinctions Between Adolescents and
	 Older Teens and Adults...................................................................................... 7
Cruel and Unusual Punishment:
	 Why Sentencing Children to Death in Prison Violates the Constitution............. 11
The Global Consensus:
	 Condemning Children to Die in Prison Violates International Law..................... 13
Children in Adult Prisons:
	 Targets for Sexual and Physical Assault............................................................. 14
Victimizing the Most Vulnerable:
	 Condemned Children Share Childhoods of Neglect and Abuse........................ 15
The Data:
	 Numbers and Demographics of Young Children Sentenced to Death
		
	 in Prison ......................................................................................................... 20
Race:
	 Children of Color Are Disproportionately Sentenced to Die in Prison............... 21
Poverty:
	 Children from Poor Families Are Unable to Get Legal Help.............................. 22
Non-Homicides:
	 Children Sentenced to Death in Prison for Crimes Without Fatalities................ 24
The Children:
	 Profiles of Children Condemned to Die in Prison.............................................. 25
Conclusion........................................................................................................... 33
Notes.................................................................................................................... 34
Acknowledgment................................................................................................ 37
1

2

Photo by Steve Liss

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
	 In the United States, dozens of 13- and 14-year-old children have been sentenced
to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole after being prosecuted as adults.
While the United States Supreme Court recently declared in Roper v. Simmons that
death by execution is unconstitutional for juveniles, young children continue to be
sentenced to imprisonment until death with very little scrutiny or review. A study
by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 73 cases where children 13 and
14 years of age have been condemned to death in prison. Almost all of these kids
currently lack legal representation and in most of these cases the propriety and
constitutionality of their extreme sentences have never been reviewed.
	 Most of the sentences imposed on these children were mandatory: the court
could not give any consideration to the child’s age or life history. Some of the children
were charged with crimes that do not involve homicide or even injury; many were
convicted for offenses where older teenagers or adults were involved and primarily
responsible for the crime; nearly two-thirds are children of color.
	 Over 2225 juveniles (age 17 or younger) in the United States have been sentenced
to life imprisonment without parole. All of these cases raise important legal,
penological, and moral issues. However, EJI believes that such a harsh sentence
for the youngest offenders – children who are 13 and 14 – is cruel and unusual in
violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. These children
should be re-sentenced to parole-eligible sentences as soon as possible. Sentences
of life imprisonment with no parole also violate international law and the Convention
on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country in the world
except the United States and Somalia.
	 EJI has launched a litigation campaign to challenge death in prison sentences
imposed on young children. This report is intended to illuminate this cruel and
unusual punishment inflicted on children, particularly for those who have been
without legal help for so long that the procedural obstacles to winning relief in court
will be formidable. Increased public awareness, coupled with informed activity by
advocacy groups, will be necessary to reform policies that reflect a lack of perspective
and hope for young children.
								
								
3

Bryan A. Stevenson
Executive Director

INTRODUCTION
	 In the United States, 13- and 14-year-old children are sentenced to die in prison.
Kids too young to drive a car or go to a scary movie by themselves are sentenced to
imprisonment until they die, with absolutely no chance of parole or release. In many
states, 13- and 14-year-olds are subjected to the harshest possible prison sentence
despite widespread acknowledgment by experts, parents, teachers, doctors, and
courts that children tend to be incapable of making mature choices, that they are
vulnerable to negative influences and peer pressure, and that they are powerless to
protect themselves from dysfunctional and dangerous home environments.
	 In most of these cases, the judges who imposed death in prison sentences on young
children had no other legal option. The majority of these children were condemned
to die in prison by mandatory sentencing laws that preclude the sentencer from
considering the child’s age, maturity, or capacity for change.

Photo by Steve Liss

	 Some young children have been involved in tragic, horribly misguided violence
and dangerous behavior, and they clearly need intervention and correction. However,
imposing death in prison sentences on young children is an irresponsible, thoughtless,
and uninformed response to kids in crisis.

4

Imprisoning a child for the rest of his life violates standards of decency in this
country, particularly in light of what we know about the unique vulnerability of
young adolescents and about a child’s capacity for growth, change, and redemption.
These extreme punishments for children violate international standards which
require protection and special consideration for children because they have not fully
developed physically, mentally, or emotionally. 	

Photo by Steve Liss

	

	 Nationwide, at least 2225 people are serving sentences of death in prison for
crimes they committed under the age of 18. Death in prison sentences are imposed
on juveniles in the United States at a rate at least three times higher today than
15 years ago.1 The proportion of juveniles convicted of serious crimes who are
sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole is increasing as states
punish these young offenders more severely.
	 Most critically, dozens of children condemned to die in prisons across the United
States were 13 or 14 at the time of the offense. The youngest of these kids facing
death in prison share characteristics – distinct from older teens – that highlight the
impropriety of imprisoning children until they die.

5

Photo by Gigi Cohen

Joseph Jones

Joseph Jones is imprisoned in North Carolina, where he was condemned to
life imprisonment without parole for an offense committed at age 13.

6

Young Children Are Different
Developmental and Legal Distinctions Between Adolescents and Older Teens and
Adults
	 Unlike older teenagers, 14-year-olds in most states cannot get married without
permission or obtain a driver’s license. The law mandates that they must attend
school and limits the hours they can work in after-school jobs.

Photos by John Earle

	 The law treats young adolescents differently because they are different. Using
state-of-the-art imaging technology, scientists have revealed that adolescents’ brains
are anatomically undeveloped in parts of the cerebrum associated with impulse
control, regulation of emotions, risk assessment, and moral reasoning. Accordingly,
the neurological development most critical to making good judgments, moral and
ethical decision-making, and controlling impulsive behavior is incomplete during
adolescence.2
	
	 As a result, young teens experience widely fluctuating emotions and vulnerability
to stress and peer pressure without the adult ability to resist impulses and risk-taking
behavior or the adult capacity to control their emotions.3 At the same time, because
a child’s character is not yet fully formed, he will change and reform as he grows
up.4

7

Quantel Lotts was condemned to die in a Missouri prison
after a tragic incident that occurred when he was 14. Quantel
was always taught that problems were solved by fighting it
out. In his family, if the kids misbehaved, the adults made
them box each other. When an argument over a toy ended
in the death of his stepbrother, Quantel was convicted of
murder and sentenced to death in prison, despite pleas from
his stepmother that he have a chance for parole.

	 While the differences between children and adults are “marked and well
understood,”5 children as young as 13 have found themselves in the adult criminal
justice system and subject to its most severe penalties. Because of their low social
status in relation to adult interrogators, beliefs about the need to obey authority,
greater dependence on adults, and vulnerability to intimidation, juveniles are
uniquely susceptible to coercive psychological interrogation techniques designed for
adults, leading to false confessions6 and undermining the reliability of the fact-finding
process.7 Together with their diminished understanding of rights, confusion about
trial processes, limited language skills, and inadequate decision-making abilities,
young children are at great risk in the adult criminal justice system.

T.J. Tremble was 14 when officers took him to the
police station at 2:30 a.m. They searched him, took
his clothes, put a jail uniform on him, and handcuffed
him behind his back for six hours. He was not allowed
to eat, sleep, use the bathroom, or see his parents.
He asked for a lawyer but none was provided. T.J.
ended up giving a statement so he could see his
parents and stop his interrogators from harassing him.
Prosecutors used that statement to convict T.J. and he
was sentenced to die in a Michigan prison.

8

	 The Supreme Court recently acknowledged the differences between juvenile and
adult offenders and concluded that children have “insufficient culpability” to merit
the most severe punishment:

Photo by Steve Liss

“[J]uvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst
offenders.”8

9

Photo by Glenn Paul

Joe Sullivan

JOE SULLIVAN has spent 18 years in prison in Florida, where he was sentenced
to imprisonment until death for a non-homicide that occurred when he was
just 13 years old. He is mentally disabled and, while in prison, has developed
serious medical problems that require him to use a wheelchair.
10

Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Why Sentencing Children to Death in Prison Violates the Constitution
	 The Eighth Amendment to the United States
Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual
A sentence of imprisonment
punishments.” To determine which punishments
until death is a different and
are cruel and unusual, courts look to “the
harsher punishment when
evolving standards of decency that mark the
inflicted on a young child.
progress of a maturing society.”9 The analysis
includes measuring the blameworthiness of
children against the harshness of the penalty
and looking at how frequently the penalty is imposed.10
	 A sentence of imprisonment until death is a different and harsher punishment
when inflicted on a young child.11 In striking down a life without parole sentence
imposed on a 13-year-old, the Nevada Supreme Court characterized it as a “denial
of hope” and said that “it means that good behavior and character improvement are
immaterial; it means that whatever the future might hold in store for the mind and
spirit of [the defendant], he will remain in prison for the rest of his days.”12
	

The United States Supreme Court has held:
When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the State can exact
forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the State cannot
extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of
his own humanity.13

A sentence to die in prison – whether by execution or other means – extinguishes that
potential and offends the Constitution.
	 EJI contacted the department of corrections in every state, reviewed all published
decisions and news articles available in electronic databases, and consulted with
juvenile justice scholars and practitioners around the country. This research uncovered
children 14 years old or younger who were sentenced to die in prison in 19 states.

11

	 EJI has identified 73 cases nationwide in which a sentence of life without parole
has been imposed on a child who was 13 or 14 years old at the time of the offense.
Those cases represent just a tiny fraction of cases in which kids 14 or under have
been arrested for homicide.14 A small handful of these young children have been
sentenced to die in prison for non-homicide offenses.

	

	
Photo by Glenn Paul

	

Ian Manuel

IAN MANUEL was sentenced to die in prison for a non-homicide that occurred
when he was 13. When he arrived at prison processing in Central Florida, he was
so small that no prison uniform fit him. “He was scared of everything and acting
like a tough guy as a defense mechanism,” said Ron McAndrew, then the assistant
warden. “He didn’t stand a chance in an adult prison.” Within months, Ian was
sent to one of the toughest adult prisons in the state, where minor nonviolent
infractions landed him in solitary confinement. Now 29, he has spent half his
life in a closet-size concrete box, getting his food through a slot in the door,
never seeing another inmate, not allowed to read anything but legal and religious
materials, so bored that he cuts himself with fragments of a toothpaste tube or a
tiny piece of glass. In the past year, he has attempted suicide five times.15
12

The Global Consensus
Condemning Children to Die in Prison Violates International Law
	
	 International law prohibits sentencing children to death in prison. The United
States is the only country in the world where a 13-year-old is known to be sentenced
to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Convention on the Rights of
the Child, ratified by every country except the United States and Somalia, forbids this
practice16 and at least 132 countries have rejected the sentence altogether.17

Photos by John Earle

	 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States
became a party in 1992, prohibits life without parole sentencing for juveniles.18 The
official implementation body for the Convention Against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment recently commented that life imprisonment for
children “could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in
violation of the Convention.19 Further, the United Nations General Assembly passed
by a 176-1 vote (the United States voted against) a resolution calling upon all nations
to “abolish by law, as soon as possible, the death penalty and life imprisonment
without possibility for release for those under the age of 18 years at the time of the
commission of the offence.”20

13

Children in Adult Prisons
Targets for Sexual and Physical Assault

Photo by Steve Liss

	 Juveniles placed in adult prisons are at heightened risk of physical and sexual
assault by older, more mature prisoners. Many adolescents suffer horrific abuse
for years when sentenced to die in prison.21 Young inmates are at particular risk of
rape in prison. Children sentenced to adult prisons typically are victimized because
they have “no prison experience, friends, companions or social support.”22 Children
are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile
facilities.23

14

	 This boy’s story is not unusual. One of
our clients attempted suicide three times after
being repeatedly raped by older inmates. After his third suicide attempt, he was
moved to another prison. While children in adult prisons often are reluctant to talk
about the sexual assaults they have experienced, many EJI clients have been victims
of prison rape, sexual assault, and physical violence and abuse while incarcerated.

Victimizing the Most Vulnerable
Condemned Children Share Childhoods of Neglect and Abuse
	 Most of the children who have been sentenced to die in prison for crimes at 13
or 14 come from violent and dysfunctional backgrounds. They have been physically
and sexually abused, neglected, and abandoned; their parents are prostitutes, drug
addicts, alcoholics, and crack dealers; they grew up in lethally violent, extremely
poor areas where health and safety were luxuries their families could not afford.

15

Photo by Steve Liss

	 EJI attorneys interviewed one Alabama
inmate who is serving a sentence of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole
for an offense that occurred when he was 15.
Since being incarcerated in an adult prison,
this boy has been repeatedly raped. He was
forced to prostitute himself in exchange for
protection from physical beatings and sexual
assault by other inmates. His ‘protectors’
forced him to have their names tattooed on his
body to signify their ownership of him. Prison
guards target him for beatings and harassment
because of the sexual relationships into which
he has been forced. His nickname, “Brown
Sugar,” is one of the prison tattoos that brand
him as a victim of repeated and ongoing sexual
abuse.

	 “[Y]outh is more than a chronological fact . . . It is a time and condition of life
when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage.”24
During 2005, approximately 899,000 children in the 50 states, the District of
Columbia, and Puerto Rico were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect. More
than 60% of victims suffered neglect, 15% suffered physical abuse, 10% suffered
sexual abuse, and 7% were victims of emotional maltreatment. An estimated 1460
children died due to child
abuse or neglect in 2005 – a
rate of 1.96 deaths per 100,000
children. More than 40% of
child fatalities were attributed
to neglect, while physical abuse
also was a major contributor
to child deaths.
Nearly
80% of perpetrators of child
maltreatment were parents,
and another 6.8% were other
relatives of the child victim.25
	 Children sentenced to die
in prison have in common the
disturbing failure of police,
family courts, child protection Ashley Jones, 14, after being sentenced to die in prison in Alabama.
agencies, foster systems, and Copyright, The Birmingham News, 2007. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
health care providers to treat
and protect them. Their crimes occur in the midst of crisis, often resulting from
desperate, misguided attempts to protect themselves.
	 The experiences of EJI’s clients exemplify the extremely deprived and difficult
backgrounds of children sentenced to die in prison. Many of these children have
been victimized by physical violence and sexual abuse inflicted on them by their
parents and other family members. Several of these children endured years of sexual
abuse and rape: one was repeatedly sexually assaulted beginning when he was just
four years old; another boy was raped by a family member.
	 Ashley Jones was repeatedly threatened at gunpoint by her parents, sexually
assaulted by her stepfather, forced into crack houses by an addicted mother, physically
abused by family members, and abducted by a gang shortly before her crime.
	

16

	 Severe neglect is also common among children in this group. Joseph Jones grew
up in Newark public housing, where his crack-addicted parents left him to cook,
clean, and take care of his six younger siblings. At 13, Joseph’s parents took him to
North Carolina and abandoned him with relatives.
	 Quantel Lotts saw his uncle gunned down in his front yard in a poor St. Louis
neighborhood, where his mother used and sold crack cocaine out of their house.
Quantel was removed from his mother’s custody at age eight; he smelled of urine, his
teeth were rotting, and his legs, arms, and head bore scars from being punched and
beaten with curtain rods and broom handles.
	 Fatal violence is all too common in the impoverished areas where many of these
kids spent their childhoods. Antonio Nuñez lived with his family in a brutally violent
South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. When he was 13, he was shot while riding
a bicycle just down the street from his house. His 14-year-old brother responded to
Antonio’s cries for help and was shot in the head and killed. Antonio would have
died but for emergency surgery to repair his intestines.
		
	

Omer Ninham has been
sentenced to imprisonment in
a Wisconsin prison until death
for a crime that occurred when
he was 14.

	 These adolescents suffer from drug and alcohol dependence that typically began
in the womb and can be traced back through their family trees. Omer Ninham is the
child of alcoholic parents and, by age ten, was drinking alcohol daily – even in the
classroom, where his teachers looked the other way. Omer got his first toothbrush at
age 14, when he was removed from his parents and sent to a youth home.
17

	 Tragically, these children received no effective or long-term services, even where
their cries for help were early, frequent, and unmistakable. Evan Miller suffered
physical and emotional abuse so severe that he tried to kill himself when he was just
seven years old. By age eight, he had attempted suicide several times.
	 Research has shown that juveniles subjected to trauma, abuse, and neglect suffer
from cognitive underdevelopment, lack of maturity, decreased ability to restrain
impulses, and susceptibility to outside influences greater even than those suffered by
normal teenagers.26
	 Normal adolescents cannot be expected to transcend their own psychological
or biological capacities in order to operate with the level of maturity, judgment, risk
aversion, or impulse control of an adult. A 14-year-old who has suffered brain trauma,
a dysfunctional family life, violence, or abuse cannot be presumed to function even
at standard levels for adolescents.
	 Children overwhelmed by dysfunction and without resources to flee or seek help
are not provided treatment or safe haven. Instead, in the adult criminal justice system,
they are subjected to mandatory sentencing that ignores the child’s circumstances
and those of the offense in imposing the harshest available sentence.

Evan Miller was condemned to
die in an Alabama prison for an
offense when he was 14 years old.

18

Dominic Culpepper

The State of Florida condemned DOMINIC CULPEPPER to death in prison for
a crime that occurred when he was 14.

19

The Data
Numbers and Demographics of Young Children Sentenced to Death in Prison
	 EJI conducted a nationwide investigation to determine how many people in the
United States are serving sentences of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole
for crimes committed when
they were 13 or 14 years
old. By reviewing court
decisions, searching media
reports, and collecting
information from state
departments of corrections
and from prisoners directly,
we have identified 73
people who are serving
sentences to die in prison
for crimes they committed
States that have sentenced
at age 13 or 14.
13- or 14-year-olds to die in prison

	 These 73 children sentenced to death in prison are serving their sentences in
just 19 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware,
Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina,
Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Number of Children Sentenced to Die in Prison

	 Pennsylvania is
the worst state in
the country when it
comes to sentencing
13- and 14-yearold
children
to
die in prison. Of
the 73 children
sentenced to die in
prison nationwide,
18 were sentenced
by
Pennsylvania.
Florida is second,
13- and 14-Year-Olds Sentenced to Die in Prison
with 15 young children sentenced to die in prison. ByInState
six states – Florida, Illinois,
Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington – 13-year-old children
have been condemned to death in prison.27
0

5

10

15

20

25

Alabama

Arkansas

Arizona

Calif ornia
Colorado

Delaw are

Florida

Missouri

Mississippi
Nebraska

North Carolina

Pennsylvania

South Dakota
Tennessee

Washington

Wisconsin

20

Race

Photo by John Earle

Children of Color Are Disproportionately Sentenced to Die in Prison
Of the 73 children we identified, nearly half
(36, or 49%) are African American. Seven (9.6%)
are Latino. Twenty-two (30%) are white. One is
Native American; one is Asian American.
						
	 All of the children condemned to death in
prison for non-homicide offenses are children of
color. All but one of the children sentenced to life
without parole for offenses committed at age 13
are children of color.
	 In cases involving children sentenced to die in
prison, race, vulnerability, and family dysfunction
are predominant factors. Of the 15 cases EJI has
investigated in connection with its litigation campaign for young children, 12 are
children of color. In nine of these cases, the victim is white. Two cases involve
intra-family offenses; three are non-homicide offenses. Three of these children were
13 years old at the time of the offense. All but five death in prison sentences were
mandatory.

Race of Children Condemned to Die in Prison

21

Poverty
Children from Poor Families Are Unable to Get Legal Help

Photo by Jacob Holdt

Most of our clients are from poor families and did
not receive adequate legal assistance to challenge their
convictions and sentences. Most had no lawyer when
EJI contacted them. Many had never filed postconviction
appeals.
In many of these cases, appointed trial and appellate
lawyers failed to challenge the death in prison sentences
imposed on their adolescent clients, or worse, filed briefs
stating that they could find no issue in the case worth
challenging on appeal. Indeed, when contacted by EJI, a
number of these lawyers did not realize or remember that
their clients were just 13 or 14 at the time of the offense.
	 Ian Manuel’s appointed trial lawyer persuaded him to plead guilty and told him
he would receive a 15-year sentence. Ian pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life
imprisonment with no parole. His lawyer never appealed or withdrew the plea.
	 Phillip Shaw’s appointed trial lawyer failed to object to the prosecution’s
discriminatory exclusion of women from his jury. As a result of the lawyer’s failure to
object, the appellate court refused to review the claim on appeal. Phillip was tried
in a joint trial with his older co-defendant. The co-defendant’s lawyer objected to
the illegal exclusion of jurors, and the co-defendant won a new trial on appeal. (He
pleaded guilty, was sentenced to ten years, and is now out of prison.)
	 Joe Sullivan’s trial lawyer has been suspended from the practice of law after being
convicted of felony assault.
	 These examples illustrate that kids who cannot afford competent counsel face
a dramatically escalated risk of being sentenced to die in prison and of losing any
chance to challenge their convictions or sentences.

22

Photo by Gigi Cohen

Ken-Tay Lee

Ken-Tay Lee was sentenced to die in a North Carolina prison for a crime committed at age 14.

23

Non-Homicides
Children Sentenced to Death in Prison for Crimes Without Fatalities
	
	 Of the 73 children sentenced to die in prison, seven were sentenced to die in
prison for crimes in which no one was killed. All of these kids are children of color.
	 Only two people in the nation are known to have been sentenced to life without
parole for a non-homicide offense at age 13. One is Joe Sullivan, who was blamed
by an older co-defendant for a sexual battery that was allegedly committed when
they broke into a home together. No physical evidence (like DNA) proved that Joe,
and not the older teen, committed this offense.
	 The second is Ian Manuel, who was 13 years old when he was directed by gang
members to commit a robbery. During the botched robbery attempt, the subject of
the robbery suffered a nonfatal gunshot wound and a remorseful Ian turned himself
in to the police. Although the victim of the robbery supports parole for Ian, he
remains condemned to die in prison.

Photo by Glenn Paul

	 In one of these nonhomicide cases, a 14-yearold was sentenced to die in
prison in California for an
offense in which no one
was injured. Fourteen-yearold Antonio Nuñez got into
a car with two men nearly
twice his age who picked
him up at a party. One of
the men later claimed to
be a kidnap victim. When
their car was chased by
the police and shots were
fired, Antonio was arrested
and charged, along with
the 27-year-old driver, with Joe Sullivan
aggravated kidnapping.

24

The Children
Profiles of Children Condemned to Die in Prison
	 EJI has filed legal challenges on behalf of 13- and 14-year-old children sentenced
to die in prison in eight states. Our clients’ stories illustrate what all children
sentenced to death in prison have in common: lack of competent legal help, offenses
characterized by an inability to make mature judgments, impulsiveness, and the
influence of older people, and brutal and traumatic childhood experiences.
Ashley Jones – Alabama
		Ashley Jones is the only girl in Alabama sentenced to death in prison for an
offense when she was 14 years old. From the time she was an infant, Ashley was
terrorized by abusive and violent adults. Her addicted mother abandoned Ashley in
crack houses while she was still in diapers and on several occasions threatened her
at gunpoint. Her father assaulted her, resulting in a hospitalization. Her stepfather
sexually assaulted her when she was 11. Relentless violence in her home left Ashley
depressed, traumatized, and suicidal. At 14, Ashley tried to escape the violence and
abuse by running away with an older boyfriend who shot and killed her grandfather
and aunt. Her grandmother and sister, who were injured during the offense, want
Ashley to come home. But Alabama’s mandatory sentencing law does not recognize
mitigation, mercy, or the abusive dysfunction that lead to her crime. Instead, it
condemns Ashley to die in prison despite the fact that today, at 22, she has matured
into a remarkable young woman who is incredibly bright and promising.

Ashley Jones, 14, after being
sentenced to die in prison in Alabama.
Copyright, The Birmingham News, 2007.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

25

Evan Miller – Alabama
	 From the time Evan Miller was a toddler, his father
severely beat him whenever he got angry. Because
of this abuse, Evan tried to hang himself with a belt
when he was seven. His impoverished family lived
in neighborhoods where Evan was exposed to alcohol,
drugs, and violence. His parents used drugs and drank
heavily. At age ten, Evan was removed from his home
and placed in foster care for two years. When he was
returned to his mother, he returned to a life of poverty
and neglect. Evan began using drugs and alcohol
and was hospitalized twice for depression and anger
management. On the night of the crime, a middle-aged man gave Evan and an older
boy drugs and alcohol. The two intoxicated kids got into a physical altercation with
the older man, who was hit with a baseball bat and his trailer set on fire. Evan was
sentenced to die in prison without any consideration of his age or the abuse and
neglect he suffered throughout his short life.

Kuntrell Jackson – Arkansas
		At 14, Kuntrell Jackson was arrested
and accused of robbery-murder in a
video store robbery and shooting that the
prosecution acknowledges was carried
out by someone else. Kuntrell was with
several other teens when the crime
allegedly was committed. Before Kuntrell
entered the store, another teen shot and
killed the clerk. The State of Arkansas
sentenced 14-year-old Kuntrell to die in
prison despite its concession that he did not kill the clerk. Kuntrell’s life at home had
been seriously disrupted when his father abandoned the family three years prior to
this incident. Kuntrell’s time in jail as a young child has been horrific. He attempted
to escape on two occasions and now is confined in a maximum security prison.

26

Antonio Nuñez – California
The month after his 13th birthday, Antonio
Nuñez was riding a bicycle near his home in
South Central L.A. when he was shot multiple
times. His brother, just 14 years old, ran to
help him and was shot in the head and killed.
Antonio left his neighborhood to escape the
violence that claimed his brother’s life, but
a probation officer threatened his mother if
he did not return to South Central. Antonio
returned to L.A. with his family and, two Antonio Nuñez with his aunt (center) and
weeks later, got into a car with two men nearly grandmother.
twice his age who picked him up at a party.
One of the men later claimed to be a kidnap
victim. When their car was chased by the police and shots were fired, Antonio was
arrested and charged, along with the 27-year-old driver, with aggravated kidnaping.
No one was injured, but 14-year-old Antonio was sentenced to die in prison. He is
the only child in the country known to be serving a death in prison sentence for his
involvement, at age 14, in a single incident where no one was injured.
Dominic Culpepper – Florida
Dominic Culpepper suffered constant emotional and physical abuse from his
mother, who beat him severely and told him she wished he was dead. Dominic’s
parents divorced and his father moved out, leaving him with his unstable and violent
mother. Dominic was befriended by older men in the neighborhood who used him
to deal drugs for them. When he was 14, a drug dealer who had threatened and
stolen from Dominic came into his home. Dominic
attacked him with a baseball bat. Afraid and confused,
14-year-old Dominic moved the injured drug dealer
out of the house and contacted emergency services.
Emergency services personnel were unable to save
the young man’s life and Dominic was arrested for
murder. Although Dominic was only 14 and had
used the bat against an intruder in his own home,
the State of Florida sentenced him to die in prison.

27

Ian Manuel – Florida

Photo by Glenn Paul

	 Ian Manuel was raised in gruesome violence and extreme poverty. At age four,
Ian was raped by a sibling. Violence and despair defined Ian’s childhood and
neighborhood and he was quickly pushed into destructive gang violence. When Ian
was 13, he was directed by gang members to commit a robbery. During the botched
robbery attempt, a woman suffered a nonfatal gunshot wound and a remorseful Ian
turned himself in to the police. Ian’s attorney instructed him to plead guilty and
told him he would receive a 15-year sentence. Ian, accepting responsibility for his
actions, pleaded guilty but was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility
of parole. Ian’s lawyer never appealed or withdrew the plea. In prison, Ian has
spent years in solitary confinement and repeatedly attempted suicide. The victim has
forgiven Ian and petitioned for his release but the State of Florida demands that Ian
remain in prison from the age of 13 until he is dead.

28

Joe Sullivan – Florida

T.J. Tremble – Michigan
	 T.J. Tremble was arrested just four months after Michigan enacted harsh new
laws permitting 14-year-old children to be tried as adults. As police held and
interrogated him overnight, they refused to permit his worried parents to see him
and denied requests for an attorney. T.J. was convicted
of first-degree murder and automatically sentenced to
death in prison with no consideration of his age or
background. He was sent to Baldwin Correctional
Facility, a privately-run maximum security prison that
closed after a federal lawsuit alleged that youths in the
prison were illegally subjected to extreme isolation
and forced to spend weeks in small concrete cells.
T.J., who has been moved to another prison located
hours from home, sends the money that he earns at
his prison job to his ailing parents. He is one of only
two 14-year-old kids in Michigan sentenced to die in
prison.

29

Photo by Glenn Paul

	 Joe Sullivan is one of only two people in the
nation known to have been sentenced to die in
prison for a non-homicide offense at age 13. A
severely mentally disabled boy, Joe was blamed by
an older co-defendant for a sexual battery that was
allegedly committed when they broke into a home
together. Despite Joe’s young age and disabilities,
his father dropped him off at police headquarters
to face questioning alone after hearing about the
allegations. At trial, Joe was represented by an
attorney who has since been suspended from the
practice of law. Joe, who continues to assert his
innocence, is 31 and confined to a wheelchair.

Quantel Lotts – Missouri

Photo by Sean Gallagher

Phillip Shaw – Missouri
	 Phillip Shaw was sentenced to die in prison for a robbery-shooting that took
place when he was 14 years old. Phillip was with a group of older boys in an
abandoned building when one of them was shot by
two masked gunmen. Phillip immediately ran home
and called the police. The police came and arrested
Phillip for the shooting, along with a 21-year-old man.
On appeal, Phillip’s older co-defendant won a new
trial because women were illegally excluded from the
jury that convicted him and Phillip. Phillip’s attorney
failed to object and his conviction was affirmed. At the
co-defendant’s retrial, the co-defendant got a reduced
sentence and now has been released from prison.
Phillip, who has matured into a thoughtful young man,
remains condemned to die in prison.

30

Photo by Sean Gallagher

	 Quantel Lotts spent the first seven years of his
life in a turbulent, violent St. Louis neighborhood.
His mother sold and used crack in their house. He
saw his uncle shot by drug dealers in his front yard.
Quantel, who is African American, was removed
from his mother’s home and lived in three different
foster homes before moving with his father to rural,
predominately white St. Francois County. Quantel’s
father moved his three children into the home
of a white woman, with whom he developed a
relationship, and her children from a prior marriage.
The step-siblings became very close. Quantel loved
his stepbrother Michael and spent a lot of time with
him. On the day of the crime, however, the two boys
got into an argument. Michael was stabbed with a
knife and died. Despite objections from the victim’s mother, Quantel was tried and
convicted as an adult. Without any consideration of his age, psychological state, or
family background, and against Michael’s mother’s wishes, Quantel was sentenced
to die in prison.

Joseph Jones – North Carolina

Photo by Gigi Cohen

Ken-Tay Lee – North Carolina	
	 Ken-Tay Lee grew up in a poor neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina. His
parents divorced when he was young, and his mother held down numerous jobs to
maintain the home for Ken-Tay and his brother. With
his mother at work and absent from the home, Ken-Tay
fell in with the wrong crowd. He smoked marijuana on
a daily basis and spent days breaking into cars. KenTay was 14 years old when he and an older teenager
were invited to a New Year’s Eve party by a 30-yearold man. After being served numerous drinks, smoking
marijuana, and after aggressive maneuvers by the
older man, Ken-Tay and the older teenager responded
violently and fatally injured the man. Despite his older
co-defendant receiving a parole date of 2017 for his
part in the man’s death, Ken-Tay was sentenced to die
in prison.
31

Photo by Gigi Cohen

	 Joseph Jones is one of nine 13-yearolds nationwide sentenced to die in prison.
Growing up in Newark public housing,
Joseph raised his six younger siblings
practically by himself. His crack-addicted
parents left the children alone for days on
end, leaving Joseph to cook, clean, and
make sure his brothers and sisters went to
school. He always did well at school and
often made the honor roll. When he was
13, Joseph’s parents took him and his brother to North Carolina and left them there
with Joseph’s aunt and 16-year-old uncle. One afternoon, while 13-year-old Joseph,
who is black, was riding his bike, his uncle and an 18-year-old friend told him to
invite home a white girl they knew from the neighborhood. Thinking nothing of it,
Joseph complied. When the older teens began beating and sexually assaulting the
girl, Joseph turned to run. His older and bigger uncle forced him to participate. After
Joseph left, the girl was killed by the older teens, who threatened Joseph not to tell
anyone. Despite the glaring conflict of interest, Joseph’s aunt acted as his ‘guardian’
during his 12-hour-long interrogation. He was convicted of murder and sentenced
to die in prison.

Omer Ninham – Wisconsin
	 Omer Ninham is the only 14-year-old sentenced to die in prison in Wisconsin.
His mother drank heavily while pregnant with him and Omer was drinking alcohol
daily from the time he was ten. His parents, both violent alcoholics, allowed Omer’s
older brothers to beat him routinely. The police were a regular presence at the
family’s numerous addresses. By the time Omer was 13 he had run away too many
times to count. Omer struggled in school, but did well when he spent a short time on
a reservation with a program for Native American children. One evening Omer and
a group of five friends began picking on a kid from school and it quickly escalated
to tragic violence and the young man was killed. Despite the powerful evidence
of Omer’s dysfunctional and abusive childhood, the judge sentenced him to die in
prison.

32

CONCLUSION
	
Many young children in America are imperiled by abuse, neglect, domestic
and community violence, and poverty. Without effective intervention and help, these
children suffer, struggle, and fall into despair and hopelessness. Some young teens
cannot manage the emotional, social, and psychological challenges of adolescence
and eventually engage in destructive and violent behavior. Sadly, many states
have ignored the crisis and dysfunction that creates child delinquency and instead
have subjected kids to further victimization and abuse in the adult criminal justice
system.
	
The imposition of life imprisonment without parole sentences on the 13and 14-year-olds documented in this report reveals the misguided consequences of
thoughtlessly surrendering children to the adult criminal justice system. Condemning
young children to die in prison is cruel and incompatible with fundamental standards
of decency that require protection for children. These sentences undermine the
efforts of parents, teachers, lawyers, activists, legislators, policymakers, judges, child
advocates, clergy, students, and ordinary citizens to ensure the well-being of young
children in our society and they feed the despair and violence that traumatizes too
many of our communities and young people. The denial of all hope to a child
whose brain - much less his character or personality - is not yet developed cannot be
reconciled with society’s commitment to help, guide, and nurture our children.
	
Life imprisonment without parole for young children should be abolished.
States that impose death in prison sentences on young children should immediately
eliminate the practice and provide opportunities for parole to people who are
currently sentenced to imprisonment until death for crimes committed at 13 or
14. Recent legal developments, international law, and medical insights on child
development provide powerful support for ending life without parole sentences for
young children. There is an urgent need to change current criminal justice policy
and institute reforms that protect young children from death in prison sentences. The
plight of the condemned children in this report is not disconnected from the fate of
all children, who frequently need correction, guidance, and direction, but always
need hope.

33

NOTES
1.	 Amnesty Int’l & Human Rights Watch, The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole
for Child Offenders in the United States (2005), at http://hrw.org/reports/2005/
us1005/.
2.	 Jay N. Giedd, Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Adolescent Brain,
1021 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 77-85 (2004); Nitin Gogtay et al., Dynamic Mapping
of Human Cortical Development During Childhood Through Early Adulthood,
101 Proceedings Nat’l Acad. Sci. 8174 (2004); Elizabeth R. Sowell et al.,
Mapping Cortical Change Across the Human Life Span, 6 Nature Neuroscience
309 (2003).
3.	 L.P. Spear, The Adolescent Brain and Age-Related Behavioral Manifestations,
24 Neuroscience & Biobehav. Revs. 417, 421 (2000); Elizabeth Cauffman &
Laurence Steinberg, (Im)Maturity of Judgment in Adolescence: Why Adolescents
May Be Less Culpable Than Adults, 18 Behav. Sci. & L. 741,742 (2000); Lita
Furby & Ruth Beyth-Marom, Risk Taking in Adolescence: A Decision-Making
Perspective, 12 Developmental Rev. 1, 9-11 (1992).
4.	 Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 570 (2005) (it would be “misguided to equate
the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that
a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.”).
5.	 Id. at 572-73.
6.	 Steven A. Drizin & Richard A. Leo, The Problem of False Confessions in the PostDNA World, 82 N.C. L. Rev. 891, 1005 (2004).
7.	 Gerald D. Robin, Juvenile Interrogation and Confessions, 10 J. Police Sci. &
Admin. 224, 225 (1982); Barbara Kaban & Ann E. Tobey, When Police Question
Children: Are Protections Adequate?, 1 J. Center Child. & Cts. 151, 158 (1999)
(“Interrogation procedures designed for adults but used with children increase
the likelihood of false confessions and may even undermine the integrity of the
fact-finding process.”).
8.	 Roper, 543 U.S. at 569.
9.	 Roper, 543 U.S. at 561 (quoting Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 100-101 (1958)
(plurality opinion)).
10.	 In Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), the Court struck down Georgia’s
statute “under which the death penalty was ‘infrequently imposed’ upon ‘a
capriciously selected random handful.’” Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U.S. 420, 438
(1980) (Marshall, J., concurring) (citing Furman, 408 U.S. at 309-10 (Stewart, J.,
34

concurring)); see also id. at 439 n.9 (noting that, in Furman, Justices Stewart and
White “concurred in the judgment largely on the ground that the death penalty
had been so infrequently imposed that it made no contribution to the goals of
punishment.”). In Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584, 596-97 (1977), the Court
looked to the rarity of death sentences for rape of an adult woman in concluding
that the death penalty is an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment
for that crime. Likewise, in Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815 (1988), a
plurality of the Court determined that contemporary standards of decency did
not permit the execution of offenders under the age of 16 at the time of the
crime, noting that the death penalty was imposed on offenders under 16 with
exceeding rarity. Id. at 832-33. When Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002),
was decided, only a minority of states permitted the execution of persons with
mental retardation, “and even in those States it was rare. On the basis of these
indicia the Court determined that executing mentally retarded offenders ‘has
become truly unusual, and it is fair to say that a national consensus has developed
against it.’” Roper, 543 U.S. at 563 (citations omitted); see also id. at 564 (“Atkins
emphasized that even in the 20 States without formal prohibition, the practice
of executing the mentally retarded was infrequent. Since Penry, only five States
had executed offenders known to have an IQ under 70.”).
11.	 Hampton v. Kentucky, 666 S.W.2d 737, 741 (Ky. 1984) (“life without parole
for a juvenile, like death, is a sentence different in quality and character from a
sentence to a term of years subject to parole.”).
12.	 Naovarath v. Nevada, 779 P.2d 944, 948-49 (Nev. 1989).
13.	 Roper, 543 U.S. at 573-574.
14.	 For example, in just the 10-year period between 1995 and 2004, 1343 children
aged 14 or under were arrested for murder or non-negligent manslaughter
nationwide. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Uniform Crime Reports: Crime in the United
States 290 (2004), available at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm; id. at p. 280
(2003); id. at p. 244 (2002); id. at p. 244 (2001); id. at p. 226 (2000); id. at p.
222 (1999); id. at p. 220 (1998); id. at p. 232 (1997); id. at p. 224 (1996); id. at
p. 218 (1995).
15.	 Meg Laughlin, Does separation equal suffering?, St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 17,
2006, 1A.
16.	 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 37, Nov. 20, 1989,
1577 U.N.T.S. 3, 28 I.L.M. 1448, 1468-1470 (entered into force Sept. 2, 1990).
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is the implementation authority
for the treaty, recently made clear in a General Comment: “The death penalty
and a life sentence without the possibility of parole are explicitly prohibited in
35

article 37(a) CRC.” Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No.
10: Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice, ¶ 11, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/10 (Apr. 25,
2007).
17.	 Connie de la Vega & Michelle Leighton, Special Report on Human Rights
Violations in Sentencing Children to Die in Prison: State Practice of Imposing Life
Without Possibility of Parole 5 (2007).
18.	 Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations of the Human Rights
Committee on the United States of America, ¶ 34, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/USA/
CO/3/Rev.1 (Dec. 18, 2006) (determining that life without parole sentencing for
children does not comply with articles 7 or 24(1) of the ICCPR).
19.	 Committee Against Torture, Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee
Against Torture: United States of America, ¶ 34, U.N. Doc. CAT/C/USA/CO/2
(July 25, 2006).
20.	 G.A. Res. 61/146, ¶ 31(a), U.N. Doc. A/Res/61/146 (Jan. 23, 2007).
21.	 Human Rights Watch, No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons (2002), available
at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/prison/report4.html#_1_24 (citing Daniel
Welzer-Lang, Lilian Mathieu and Michael Faure, Sexualits et violences en prison
150-53 (1996); Carl Weiss & David James Friar, Terror in the Prisons: Homosexual
Rape and Why Society Condones It 74 (1974) (explaining that “[n]o age escapes
prison rape, but youth is hit the hardest”).
22.	 National Institute of Justice, NIJ’s Response to the Prison Rape Elimination Act
60, Corrections Today (Feb. 2006), available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/
nij/213137.pdf.
23.	 42 U.S.C.A. 15601 (2003) (congressional findings in support of Prison Rape
Elimination Act).
24.	 Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 115-16 (1982).
25.	 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children,
Youth and Families, Child Maltreatment 2005 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 2007), available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/
cm05/index.htm.
26.	 Nancy Kaser-Boyd, Ph.D., Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders in Children and Adults:
The Legal Relevance, 20 W. St. U. L. Rev. 319 (1993).
27.	 Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

36

Photo by Steve Liss

ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This report was researched, written, and produced by the Equal Justice Initiative. EJI would like
to thank Steve Liss, John Earle, Gigi Cohen, Glenn Paul, and Sean Gallagher for their wonderful
photography and generous contributions to this report. Special thanks to EJI senior attorney Aaryn Urell
for research, writing, and production coordination. Thanks also to Rebecca Kiley, Alicia D’Addario,
Rachel Germany, Irene Joe, Robert Singagliese, Randy Susskind, Marc Shapiro, Cathleen Price, and
Lee Eaton at EJI for their research, writing, and production assistance. We are also grateful to Al and
Diane Kaneb for their support.

Equal Justice Initiative
122 Commerce Street
Montgomery, Alabama 36104
(334) 269-1803
www.eji.org

 

 

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