More than three months after the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be executed, Texas Gov. Rick Perry today commuted 28 death sentences to life in prison for inmates who were under 18 when they committed capital murder.
The Supreme Court forced the commutations with its March ruling that executing juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Texas was one of 18 states that allowed the practice.
Perry's order starts the process of moving the inmates off death row.
"While these individuals were convicted by juries of brutal murders and sentenced to die for their heinous crimes, I have no choice but to commute these sentences to life in prison as a result of the Supreme Court ruling," Perry said.
Well, this move comes three years too late for Napoleon Beazley. He was sentenced to death for the April 19, 1994 murder of Mr. John Luttig in Tyler, Texas. At the time of the offense, he was 17 years old. The state of Texas executed him on May 28, 2002. Here are his last words: "There are a lot of men like me on death row - good men - who fell to the same misguided emotions, but may not have recovered as I have. Give those men a chance to do what's right. Give them a chance to undo their wrongs. A lot of them want to fix the mess they stated, but don't know how. The problem is not in that people aren't willing to help them find out, but in the system telling them it won't matter anyway. No one wins tonight. No one gets closure. No one walks away victorious."
The U.S. Supreme Court knew this execution was wrong three years ago, but they waited to make an example out of another case (Roper v. Simmons) to overturn their 1988 ruling that executing convicted murderers over the age of 16 was constitutional. When Beazley's case was appealed to the Supreme Court, even the presiding judge in the case, Cynthia Kent, wrote a brief asking for commutation to life in prison rather than execution. However, the Supreme Court's decision ended in a rare 3-3 deadlock because three justices (Clarence Thomas, David Souter, and Antonin Scalia) had to excuse themselves since they knew the victim's son (Michael Luttig, a federal judge and rumored to be on the short-list for a supreme court appointment).
In the deciding opinion that banned juvenile executions this March, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest.”
Juvenile offenders have been put to death in recent years in only a few other countries, including Iran, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia. Kennedy cited international opposition to the practice.
“It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime,” he wrote.
Three years too late for Napoleon Beazley.