High court strikes down death penalty for juveniles - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

High court strikes down death penalty for juveniles

Washington D. C. -- The ruling ends a practice used in 19 states, including Georgia.

The death penalty is especially controversial when you're dealing with juveniles. In 14 states, people could be sentenced to death for a crime they committed at the young age of 16, in another four, including Georgia, a person had to be at least 17 years old.

Now, a person must be 18 years old in every state when they commit the crime to receive a penalty of death.

The ruling tosses out death sentences of about 70 juvenile murderers, including two from Georgia-- Larry Leonardre Jenkins, who was 17-years old when he committed a murder in Wayne County.

Also on death row, Exzavious Lee Gibson, who was sentenced for a Dodge County murder when he too was just 17.

Both sentences are now null and void.

"The only troubling aspect of it is, that we are having kids that are getting more and more violent." Dougherty District Attorney Ken Hodges says he understands the court wants to avoid sending kids to death row unjustly, but there are always exceptions.

"I hate bright-lined rules like that, because there are always going to be exceptions. There may be a 17-year-old that goes out and kills ten people, and then what do you do if you're forbidden from seeking the maximum penalty?"

And in Georgia, not being able to seek the death penalty poses another problem, "Without being able to seek the death penalty against a 17-year-old, I can't seek life without parole for him, in cases when it's justified," said Hodges.

And if a person is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, while unlikely, it is possible for them to be released in as little as 14 years.

Hodges says legislation is in the works to allow prosecutors to seek life without parole without first seeking the death penalty.

Both Jenkins and Gibson will remain on death row until corrections officials receive orders from the trial courts that their death sentences have been thrown out.

posted by dave.miller@walb.com

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