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Christopher Lee SIMMONS





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (17)
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 9, 1993
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: April 26, 1976
Victim profile: Shirley Crook, 46
Method of murder: Drowning (threw her off a bridge)
Location: Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 1994. Missouri Supreme Court resentences Simmons to life without parole on August 26, 2003

photo gallery


Supreme Court of the United States


Roper v. Simmons


Petition for a commutation of a sentence of death


Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) was a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, which held that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18. The case was decided on March 1, 2005, by a vote of 5-4.

The case

This case, which originated in Missouri, involved Christopher Simmons, who in 1993 at the age of 17 concocted a plan to murder Shirley Crook, bringing two younger friends, Charles Benjamin and John Tessmer, into the plot.

The plan was to commit burglary and murder by breaking and entering, tying up a victim, and tossing the victim off a bridge. The three met in the middle of the night; however, Tessmer then dropped out of the plot. Simmons and Benjamin broke into Mrs. Crook's home, bound her hands and covered her eyes. They drove her to a state park and threw her off a bridge.

Once the case went to trial, the evidence was overwhelming. Simmons had confessed to the murder, performed a videotaped reenactment at the crime scene, and there was testimony from Tessmer against him that showed premeditation (he discussed the plot in advance and later bragged about the crime). The jury returned a guilty verdict.

Even considering mitigating factors (no criminal history, sympathy from Simmons' family, and most significantly for the later appeal, his age), the jury nonetheless recommended a death sentence, which the trial court imposed.

Simmons first moved for the trial court to set aside the conviction and sentence, citing, in part, ineffective assistance of counsel. His age, and thus impulsiveness, along with a troubled background were brought up as issues that Simmons claimed should have been raised at the sentencing phase. The trial court rejected the motion, and Simmons appealed.

The case worked its way up the court system, with the courts continuing to uphold the death sentence. However, in light of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), that overturned the death penalty for the mentally retarded, Simmons filed a new petition for state post conviction relief, and the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that "a national consensus has developed against the execution of juvenile offenders" and sentenced Simmons to life imprisonment without parole.

The State of Missouri appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. (Donald P. Roper, the Superintendent of the correctional facility where Simmons was held, was a party to the action because it was brought as a petition for a writ of Habeas corpus.)

The ruling

The case was argued on October 13, 2004. The appeal challenged the constitutionality of capital punishment for persons who were juveniles when their crimes were committed, citing the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Previously, a 1988 Supreme Court decision Thompson v. Oklahoma barred execution of offenders under the age of 16. In 1989, another case, Stanford v. Kentucky upheld the possibility of capital punishment for offenders who were 16 or 17 years old when they committed the capital offense.

The same day in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Penry v. Lynaugh, that it was permissible to execute the mentally retarded. However, in 2002, that decision was overruled in Atkins v. Virginia, where the Court held that evolving standards of decency had made the execution of the mentally retarded cruel and unusual punishment and thus unconstitutional.

Under the "evolving standards of decency" test, the Court held that it was cruel and unusual punishment to execute a person who was under the age of 18 at the time of the murder. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy cited a body of sociological and scientific research that found that juveniles have a lack of maturity and sense of responsibility compared to adults. Adolescents were found to be overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior.

The Court noted that in recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every state prohibited those under age 18 from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent. The studies also found that juveniles are also more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. They have less control, or experience with control, over their own environment. They also lack the freedom that adults have, in escaping a criminogenic setting.

In support of the "national consensus" position, the Court noted the increasing infrequency with which states were applying capital punishment for juvenile offenders. At the time of the decision, 20 states had the juvenile death penalty on the books, but only six states had executed prisoners for crimes committed as juveniles since 1989. Only three states had done so in the past 10 years: Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. Furthermore, five of the states that allowed the juvenile death penalty at the time of the 1989 case had since abolished it.

The Court also looked to international law to support the holding. Since 1990, only seven other countries – Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China – have executed defendants who were juveniles at the time of their crime.

Justice Kennedy noted that since 1990 each of those countries had either abolished the death penalty for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice, and that the U. S. stood alone in allowing execution of juvenile offenders. The Court also noted that only the U. S. and Somalia had not ratified Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (September 2, 1990), which expressly prohibits capital punishment for crimes committed by juveniles.

In drawing the line at 18 years of age for actions with death eligibility, the Supreme Court considered that 18 is also where the law draws the line between minority and adulthood for a multitude of other purposes, overturning its holding in Stanford v. Kentucky that such a consideration was irrelevant.

The dissents

Justice Scalia wrote a dissent joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas. Justice O’Connor also wrote a dissenting opinion. The dissents put into question whether a “national consensus” had indeed formed among the state laws, citing the fact that at the time of the ruling only 18 of 38 death penalty states (47%) prohibited the execution of juveniles.

However, the primary objection of the Court's two originalists, Justices Scalia and Thomas, was whether such a consensus was relevant. Justice Scalia argued that the appropriate question was not whether there was presently a consensus against the execution of juveniles, but rather whether the execution of such defendants was considered cruel and unusual at the point at which the Bill of Rights was ratified.

In addition, Justice Scalia also objected in general to the Court's willingness to take guidance from foreign law in interpreting the Constitution; his dissent questioned not only the relevance of foreign law, but also accused the Court of "invok[ing] alien law when it agrees with one's own thinking, and ignor[ing] it otherwise," noting that in the case of abortion U.S. laws are less restrictive than the international norm.

In a roundtable discussion with Justice Breyer, at American University-Washington College of Law, Justice Scalia posed the question: "what is the criterion for whether or not to adopt foreign precedent? That it agrees with you?"

Scalia also attacked the majority opinion as being fundamentally anti-democratic. His dissent cited a passage from the Federalist Papers in arguing that the role of the judiciary in the constitutional scheme is to interpret the law as formulated in democratically selected legislatures.

He argued that the Court exists to rule on what the law says, not what it should say, and that it is for the legislature, acting in the manner prescribed in Article V of the Constitution, to offer amendments to the Constitution in light of the evolving standard of decency, not for the Court to arbitrarily make de facto amendments. He challenged the right of unelected lawyers to discern moral values and to impose them on the people in the name of flexible readings of the constitutional text.


Constitutional Jurisprudence

The majority ruling highlighted several controversies in the field of constitutional jurisprudence. The first is the use of the concept of an evolving "national consensus" to allow for the re-interpretation of previous rulings. What constitutes evidence for such a consensus - and from where the judicial branch derives its authority to determine it and implement it into law, a function constitutionally vested in the legislative branch - especially in the case of capital punishment, is unclear at this point.

In Roper v. Simmons the majority cited the abolishment of juvenile capital punishment in 30 states (18 of the 38 allowing capital punishment) as evidence of such a consensus. In Atkins v. Virginia it was the "consensus" of the 30 states (18 of 38 allowing capital punishment) that had banned execution of the mildly retarded.

Another controversy is the role of foreign laws and norms in the interpretation of U.S. law. In 2004 Representative Tom Feeney (FL) introduced a non-binding resolution instructing the judiciary to ignore foreign precedent when making their rulings: "This resolution advises the courts that it is improper for them to substitute foreign law for American law or the American Constitution. To the extent they deliberately ignore Congress' admonishment, they are no longer engaging in 'good behavior' in the meaning of the Constitution and they may subject themselves to the ultimate remedy, which would be impeachment."

Beltway Sniper Case

The implications of this ruling were immediately felt in the State of Virginia, where Lee Boyd Malvo is no longer eligible for the death penalty for his role in the Beltway sniper attacks that terrorized the Washington, D.C. area in October 2002. At the time of the attacks, Malvo was 17 years old. He had already been spared the death penalty in his first trial for the murder of FBI employee Linda Franklin in Falls Church, Virginia, and pleaded guilty in another case in Spotsylvania County, he had yet to face trial in Prince William County, Virginia, as well as in Maryland, Louisiana and Alabama.

In light of this Supreme Court decision, the prosecutors in Prince William County have decided not to pursue the charges against Malvo. At the outset of the Beltway sniper prosecutions, the primary reason for extraditing the two suspects from Maryland, where they were arrested, to Virginia, was the differences in how the two states deal with the death penalty. While the death penalty is allowed in Maryland, it is only applied to persons who were adults at the time of their crimes, whereas Virginia had also allowed the death penalty for offenders who had been juveniles when their crimes were committed.

Further Developments

In Ex parte Adams, 955 So. 2d 1106 (Ala. 2005), the Supreme Court of Alabama remanded the death sentence of a juvenile murderer for a rehearing in the lower court in light of the Roper decision, which was released while the Adams case was pending appeal.

Justice Tom Parker, who had participated in the prosecution of the case, recused himself. He, however, published an op-ed in The Birmingham News to criticize his non-recused colleagues for the decision. "State supreme courts may decline to follow bad U.S. Supreme Court precedents because those decisions bind only the parties to the particular case," wrote Justice Parker.

The State sought review in the Supreme Court, raising a single issue, "Whether this Court should reconsider its decision in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)." The Supreme Court denied certiorari on June 19, 2006, without a published dissent, thereby ending the matter.


Juvenile Offender Facing Execution in Missouri

March 1, 2005 - The U.S. Supreme Court rules in favour of Simmons, finding the application of the death penalty to those under eighteen years of age unconstitutional.

Case Overview

Facts of the Case

Christopher Simmons was 17 years of age at the time of his arrest for the September 9, 1993 murder of Shirley Crook. Crook’s body was found in the Meramec River in St. Louis County. She had been tied with electric cable, leather straps and duct tape, had bruises on her body and fractured ribs. The medical examiner determined the cause of her death was drowning. Prior to the crime, Simmons had no previous criminal record.

The Trial

The jury that sentenced Simmons was never adequately informed of Simmons’ social history or the possible efforts on his behavior, including his abusive childhood, possible mental condition and drug dependency.

The only testimony presented portrayed Simmons as a good brother, a loving son and a compassionate person who provided support to his friends and family. Defense attorneys failed to elicit critical information from the few witnesses called to testify. Further, the defense did not present the effects of Simmons’ childhood abuse on his development and behavior, his drug abuse history, his mental functioning and his potential mental illness.

The evidence presented was so minimal that at least one member of the jury, James V. Biundo, a professor at Southeast Missouri State University, was left wondering how it was possible that Simmons, a loving brother and good neighbor, could have participated in such a crime.

Christopher Simmons Suffered Physical and Mental Abuse

Simmons’ stepfather, Bob Hayes, an alcoholic was abusive, both physically and mentally, during Simmons’ childhood. Hayes would scream at Simmons, intimidate him and beat him severely. In one incident, Hayes tied Simmons, a toddler at the time, to a tree so that he would not have to supervise him while fishing. This example was reported by Bob Hayes himself in an interview with Dr. Robert Smith, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Christopher Simmons after the sentence of death.

One of Simmons’ friends, Christie Brooks, testified that she saw the stepfather hit Simmons so hard in the ear that blood trickled down his neck. It was later discovered that his eardrum had burst as a result of this attack. Miss Brooks asserts that she witnessed Simmons’ embarrassment, crying and sobbing as a result of his abuse. Simmons’ mother, Cheryl Hayes, was too intimidated by her husband, to intervene.

In an interview with Dr. Smith which took place after Simmons’ trial, Cheryl Hayes confessed that she had “taken on a “victim” mentality, viewing herself as helpless and unable to function independently. As a result, she was unable to defend her son from emotional and physical abuse. This emotional abandonment led Christopher Simmons questioning his mother’s love him and his personal value”. Cheryl Hayes’ admissions were supported by psychological testing.

Simmons’ maternal aunt, Maria Osburn, could have also testified to the abuse he suffered. She viewed her nephew’s role in the home as essentially that of a “slave”.

Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Simmons was exposed to alcohol at an extremely early age. His maternal aunt saw him being served alcohol at his mother’s wedding. When Simmons was four years old, his father took him to a bar and gave him alcohol for the amusement of other patrons.

By his teenage years, Simmons was drinking hard liquor and smoking marijuana almost daily. On occasion, he would use magic mushrooms, LSD and cocaine.

When the abuse at home became particularly bad, Simmons would escape to a neighbor’s trailer home. It is reported that this neighbor, a 28 year old man, would provide the neighborhood younger children with drugs, often making them commit crimes and give him the proceeds.

Possible Mental illness

According to Dr. Smith, given the environment in which Simmons was raised and his family’s prior generational history of psychiatric illnesses and substance abuse, which is reported by Cheryl Hayes and Maria Osburn, Christopher was predisposed to developing a psychiatric illness.

Moreover, during Simmons’ state post-conviction hearing, Dr. Smith determined that Simmons’ lack of a loving, supportive male role model contributed to his “low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and distorted views about his relationships”. He felt insecure, alone, depressed and hopeless.

Dr. Smith testified to his conclusion that Simmons suffered from schizotypal personality disorder, a disorder distinguished by a pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by acute discomfort and a reduced capacity for close relationships and cognitive and perceptual distortions.

Because of the abusive environment where Simmons was raised, it was postulated that he was never able to express anger, and his resentment grew inside of him. Dr. Smith stressed the link between Simmons’ personality disorder and his substance use: alcohol and drugs became one of the ways to reduce his anxiety.

Current Status

On August 26, 2003 the Missouri Supreme Court vacated Christopher Simmon's death sentence, holding that juvenile executions violate the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution under the "evolving standards of decency" test.

This clearly has potentially far reaching ramifications in regard to the constitutionality of the death penalty as applied to juveniles. In reaching this decision, the Court noted both domestic and international standards. The State of Missouri subsequently appealed the decision to the United States' Supreme Court. On January 26, 2004, the Court granted cert and oral arguments were heard on October 13, 2004. A decision is anticipated in Spring 2005.

Executing Juvenile Offenders

American justice is founded on fundamentals principles, which punishes according to the degree of culpability and reserves death for the worst offenders. By their very nature, juveniles are less mature, and therefore less culpable than adults. Adolescence is a transitional period of life when cognitive abilities, emotions, judgment, impulse control, identity -- even the brain -- are still developing.

Immaturity, compounded by additional extenuating circumstances, may demonstrate why the death penalty is not an appropriate form of punishment. A high percentage of juveniles on death row have suffered from all, or a combination of, the following mitigating factors; mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug addiction, abandonment and severe poverty.

Executing Juvenile Offenders is Contrary to International Law

The ultimate goal of the international community is to abolish the death penalty under all circumstances; however, until that time there are restrictions on the categories of persons who can be executed, juveniles being one of the restricted categories. The prohibition of the execution of juvenile offenders is referenced in a number of international treaties, declarations, and statements by international bodies, in addition to the laws of the majority of nations.

The execution of juveniles is expressly forbidden in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6(5), the American Convention on Human Rights, Chapter 2, Article 4, Section 5, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Article 68 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 37.

Since 1990, only seven countries have reportedly executed juveniles: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Yemen, Pakistan and the United States. In the last three years this small number of nations known to have executed child offenders has further declined to only four: the DCR, Iran, Pakistan, and the US. In 1994, Yemen changed its law to prohibit the execution of juveniles. The Nigerian government has asserted to the UN Sub-Commission that the execution, which took place in 1997 was not of a juvenile and Saudi Arabia emphatically denies the 1992 execution of a juvenile. In July 2000, Pakistan moved to outlaw such executions under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance signed on 1 July 2000. However, it has been reported that Pakistan executed Ali Sher on 3 November 2001 for a crime he committed at the age of 13. Since that time, President Musharrah of Pakistan has commuted the death sentences of approximately 100 young offenders to imprisonment.

In December 1999, the DRC called for a moratorium on all executions. However, in January 2000, a 14 year-old child soldier was executed in the DRC. Since that time, according to OMCT-World Organization Against Torture, four juvenile offenders sentenced to death in the DRC in a military court were granted stays and the sentences were commuted following an appeal from the international community.

It is unmistakable that beyond the borders of the United States, the application of the death penalty for child offenders is rapidly advancing towards total abolition. Of the six countries, other than the US, that have reportedly executed juvenile offenders, all have either changed their laws or the governments have denied that the executions took place.


Letters Asking For Clemency

  • April 17, 2002 - Letter from Government of Mexico asking for clemency.

  • April 10, 2002 - Government of Switzerland - letter asking for clemency, signed by Ambassador of Switzerland, Christian Blickenstorfer.

  • April 9, 2002 - The Council of Europe has sent a letter asking Governor Holden to grant Chris Simmons clemency.

  • April 17, 2002 - The European Union has issued a demarche asking Governor Holden to grant Chris Simmons clemency.

Briefs, Petitions, etc.

  • State of Missouri's petition for writ of certiorari - October 2003

  • Petition for Clemency

  • Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus - Trial Level

  • Applicability of Atkins v Virginia Issues

  • European Union and Members of the International Community (Amicus)

  • Former US Diplomats (Amicus)

  • Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (Amicus)

  • Amicus briefs in support of Simmons were also filed by numerous other organisations representing scientific, psychological, religious, legal and States' perspectives among others.

  • July 19, 2004 - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Press Comment anticipating the filing of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Amicus Brief in Support of Christopher Simmons.

    "In every nation, children face challenges to their dignity, their safety, their health, and their education. The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate brief in the Christopher Simmons case intends to send the message that children need our sympathy and care. They require our protection, not our judgment. Our societies are legitimately concerned about violence. If there is violence among our children, we must address its root causes in our adult world and in our failures to address our children's basic necessities. A regime that sentences children to its harshest adult punishment displays a lack of basic comprehension of their needs. As Jesus said, when the child asks for bread, what parent gives him a stone?"

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Press Comment anticipating the filing of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Amicus Brief in Support of Christopher Simmons, July 19, 2004.


  • February 11, 2004 - The US Supreme Court granted a filing date extension to Missouri. The State's brief is now due on April 21. Simmons will then have 35 days to reply.

  • January 26, 2004 - US Supreme Court grants cert in Simmons' case

  • September 3, 2001 - Teen executions opposed----Missouri court's ruling is latest in debate

  • August 31, 2003 – Balance of Power

  • August 26, 2003 - The Missouri Supreme Court has vacated Christopher Simmons' death sentence holding that juvenile executions violate the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution under the "evolving standards of decency" test.

  • March 5, 2003 - The Missouri Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Simmons' case on March 5, 2003.

  • November 26, 2002 - The Missouri Supreme Court issued an order granting a writ of habeas corpus in Simmons' case. Missouri must respond to the writ in 15 days. Simmons will then have 30 days to file a brief. Missouri will then have 20 days to respond and Simmons will have 10 days to reply. The court will then schedule oral argument.

  • May 28, 2002 - Missouri Supreme Court stays Simmons execution. This announcement came the same day as Napoleon Beazley, another juvenile offender, was executed.

  • May 27, 2002 - Murderous adolescents, Napoleon and Chris, await their turn to die

  • April 24, 2002 - Missouri Supreme Court postpones execution of juvenile offender


Supreme Court Is Urged to Reject Capital Punishment for Juvenile Offenders

Washington Post, October 14, 2004

A plea to declare capital punishment for juvenile offenders unconstitutional received a skeptical hearing at the Supreme Court yesterday, as one of two justices likely to be pivotal to the outcome repeatedly voiced doubts.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy observed that he was "troubled" that a ban might lead gang leaders to use 16- or 17-year-olds as "hit men."

"I'm very concerned about that," Kennedy told Seth P. Waxman, a former U.S. solicitor general who was arguing on behalf of Missouri death row inmate Christopher Simmons, who faces execution for a murder he committed at 17. "I'm talking about the deterrent value of the existing rule."

Waxman replied that deterrence does not work with juvenile offenders because they "are impulsive and subject to peer pressure."

But Kennedy responded that many 17-year-old offenders were "ringleaders" in brutal, calculated murders, citing a friend-of-the-court brief filed by a group of states that wish to retain a death penalty for juveniles. Kennedy said the brief was "chilling reading."

Kennedy's vote is crucial because four justices, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, have already declared their belief that executing those who commit crimes while under the age of 18 is "cruel and unusual punishment."

The records of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas suggest that they think the issue should be left up to the states.

That leaves only Kennedy and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as possible fifth votes for a ban. O'Connor was mostly silent in yesterday's hearing.

The Supreme Court upheld capital punishment for 16- and 17-year-old offenders in 1989. It banned it for those 15 and under in 1988.

Until now, the court's position has been unaffected by its 2002 decision to ban the death penalty for the moderately mentally retarded. In that case, Kennedy and O'Connor joined Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer.

The court found that a national consensus against the practice had formed since 1989. The best evidence for that, the court ruled, was that the number of states banning the death penalty for the retarded had grown from two to 13.

Many opponents of the death penalty immediately recognized that a similar argument could be applied to juveniles.

Yet in the 2002 opinion, written by Stevens, the court seemed to warn that it was not ready for that, contrasting the strong trend against executing the retarded with the fact that, between 1989 and 2002, only two states had raised their minimum ages for capital punishment to 18.

Three times in the past two years, the court refused to hear appeals from death row inmates who had killed while they were juveniles -- despite a strongly worded dissent in one case from Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer.

Last year, the court actually reinstated the death penalty of a juvenile offender in Oklahoma after a federal appeals court had blocked it. The vote was 5 to 4, with Kennedy and O'Connor in the majority.

The court intervened in the Simmons case only after the Missouri Supreme Court threw out Simmons's sentence last year on the grounds that the 1989 precedent had, indeed, been superseded by the 2002 case.

Waxman pressed a similar argument yesterday. He told the court that the execution of juvenile criminals conflicts with a "robust consensus" reflected in the recent decisions of several states to ban the practice and in the decreasing frequency with which juries impose the death penalty on those under 18. Scientific evidence shows that the areas of the brain in charge of judgment and impulse control are incomplete in adolescents, he said.

Death is the wrong punishment for crimes that reflect "the transient psychosocial characteristics that rage in adolescents," Waxman said.

But Kennedy noted that the American Psychological Association -- which told the court in a brief in this case that adolescents are too immature to qualify for capital punishment -- had also said in a case about parental notification for abortion that teenagers are old enough to make such a decision on their own. "They flip-flopped," Kennedy said.

Waxman said there is no inconsistency because "what was at issue in that case was the competency to decide," while the question in this case involves "factors why adolescents are less morally culpable."

He urged the court to act based on a "worldwide consensus" against the death penalty for juveniles, noting that, except for the United States, all 110 countries that have capital punishment do not apply it to those under 18.

States that permit it "are not just alone in this country, they are alone in the world," he said.

On this point, Kennedy appeared to sympathize with Waxman, asking Missouri state Solicitor James R. Layton: "There seems to be a very substantial demonstration that world opinion is against us. . . . Does that have a bearing on what's 'unusual' " punishment?"

Layton replied that "what matters" is U.S. legislation.

O'Connor's only remark hinted at some openness to Waxman's position.

Addressing Layton, she noted that the number of states that either do not have capital punishment or set the age at 18 is "about the same" as the number of those with bans on executing the retarded in 2002, which was 30.

"There is no inexorable trend here," Layton replied.

The case is Roper v. Simmons, No. 03-633. A decision is expected by July.


Supreme Court will revisit execution of teenage killers

Associated Press

January 26, 2004

The Supreme Court, which 2 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 court's decision, expected by June, continues the high court's reexamination of who belongs on death row and how the death penalty is carried out.

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 until now they could not persuade their colleagues to reopen the debate.

In 2003, the 4-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.

The rhetoric echoed the court's 2002 ruling that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. In both instances, the constitutional question turns on the defendants' ability to understand their situation, and their level of culpability.

Also like the retardation question, this one will involve an examination of whether the country has changed its mind about what kind of punishment is appropriate.

The court relied heavily on the actions of state legislatures in deciding to ban executions of the retarded. On that issue, the court said the large number of states that had acted on their own to ban such executions showed that the nation no longer supported the practice.

The court majority said, in effect, that times change and that the constitutionality of such executions changes with them. The 6-3 ruling drew fierce dissents from the court's three most conservative members, who view the Constitution as a more rigid document.

Shortly after that ruling, Stevens predicted that juvenile killers would be the next major death penalty question before the court.

The issue has been there before. The high court upheld juvenile executions in 1989, and will now consider reversing that ruling.

Only the United States and a handful of other countries allow execution of juvenile killers, and death penalty opponents argue that such executions violate not only the Constitution but an international treaty signed by the United States.

Currently, 17 states that allow the death penalty for other people prohibit it for those who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. The federal government also prohibits the practice for juveniles prosecuted in federal court.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are now 82 inmates on death row nationwide for crimes committed when they were under 18. States have put to death 22 such inmates in recent years.

The case is Roper v. Simmons, 03-633.


Teen executions opposed----Missouri court's ruling is latest in debate

Kansas City Star

September 3, 2003

In the Middle Ages, children who killed at age 14 or even younger faced execution.

In 1988, the United States Supreme Court forbade executions for those who had killed at age 15 or younger. The next year, it ruled 5-4 that juvenile killers who were 16 and 17 could be put to death.

Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court ripped open a debate as old as civilization when it ruled 4-3 that executing anyone for a crime committed as a minor is unconstitutional.

Iran and the Republic of the Congo are the only other nations that sanction executing juveniles, the ruling noted. More and more states, including Kansas, forbid it.

Evolving standards of decency have made such executions cruel and unusual punishment, the Missouri court ruled. It said the U.S. Supreme Court would agree - apparently setting up a clash in the nation's high court.

Many of the advocacy groups who fought such executions and lost in 1989 said they would file support briefs.

"This case will give us an opportunity to weigh in," said Dennis Archer, national president of the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C.

The bar association opposes executing minors because children are not developed enough to appreciate their actions, he said.

"Under the age of 18, one can't enter into a contract, join the armed services or buy alcohol or cigarettes," Archer said.

He expected the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, he said, but even if it does not, the Missouri ruling will be cited by lawyers nationwide in all such death cases. Someday, he said, such executions will end.

But Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports victims' rights, said the Missouri ruling is legally improper and the U.S. Supreme Court might react to that.

Judge William Ray Price wrote in his dissenting opinion last Tuesday that the court's decision flies in the face of laws already on the books.

Missouri law currently allows convicted murderers as young as 16 to be sentenced to death. A bill by Sen. Ed Quick, a Liberty Democrat, to increase the age to 18 failed in the last legislative session.

Sen. Matt Bartle, a Lee's Summit Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said there has been a shift in the court politically. Four of the seven judges were appointed by Democratic governors Mel Carnahan and Bob Holden.

"If the seven judges on the (Missouri) Supreme Court want to change policy, they need to run for the legislature," Bartle said.

The nation's high court could just do a summary reversal - overturn the Missouri ruling without a hearing and with just a few words.

"A summary reversal is generally regarded as a bit of a spanking," Scheidegger said.

As for executing minors, he said, "It's an issue each state is capable of deciding for itself."

The ruling notes that states are increasingly turning away from executions for crimes committed by juveniles.

According to the ruling:

16 states with the death penalty - now 17 - and military courts require a minimum age of 18 at the time of the crime for execution. Until last week, Missouri was among 22 states that allowed execution of juvenile offenders.

But such executions are rare. Missouri has only executed 1 person since 1937 for a crime committed as a minor. Nationwide, only 22 juveniles have been executed since 1973, with more than 80 % of those in Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma.

The rareness of the executions shows that society has moved beyond them, the ruling states.

But others say the death penalty should be available for minors.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, who said he will appeal the Missouri ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, noted the horrible crime in that case.

The ruling changed the sentence of Christopher Simmons, 27, of St. Louis from execution to life without parole. He was 17 in 1993 when he kidnapped Shirley Crook, bound her and pushed her from a bridge into the Meramec River. Simmons allegedly told an accomplice they could get away with it because they were juveniles.

"When you get actions that are so depraved, heinous, horrendous," Nixon said, the death penalty is appropriate.

Dudley Sharp, resource director of Texas-based Justice For All, a victims advocacy group, said, "The real evolving standard is that we would give death rarely in a juvenile case but we would like to reserve it for the worst cases."

Nationwide, the majority of people say they are against executing juveniles, he said, but they back off when asked about a case like that of Lee Boyd Malvo. He is accused of being the Washington, D.C.-area sniper who at age 17 shot people to death and bragged about his aim. He faces trial and possibly the death penalty in Virginia.

Sharp said he also rejected the logic of the Missouri ruling, which extended to minors the same reasoning the United States Supreme Court used last year in banning the execution of the mentally retarded.

That does not work, he said, because "all minors are different; some 16- or 17-year-olds are as mature as some 18- or 20-year-olds."

Sharp said he expected the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Missouri ruling. He noted that the nation's high court had recently approved several executions of juvenile killers.

But sometimes just barely.

In a December 2002 dissent, 4 U.S. Supreme Court judges called executing minors under 18 "a relic of the past ... inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society."

So spoke judges John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Supporters of the Missouri ruling, including dozens of advocacy groups, hope to help swing the additional vote needed to end the executions.

Psychiatrist Mark A. Wellek of Arizona, past president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, thinks his group can file a brief that will win over at least Judge Sandra Day O'Connor.

His card: Brain scan tests developed in the past 5 years establish that the brains of teenage males are not fully developed and can make them prone to irrational actions.

"Impulse and action, almost instinct, drives the whole thing," he said. "They cannot think ahead of actions."

The part of the brain that involves reasoning and impulse control is no more developed in an 18-year-old male than in one of 14, he said, and does not become fully developed until males reach their 20s.

In females, the impulse to control part of the brain is fully developed by age 18, Wellek said. There are no girls on death row."


Balance of power

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - August 31, 2003

The Missouri Supreme Court's 4 Democratic appointees inserted themselves into the national death penalty debate last week, earning praise with a 4-3 ruling as bold visionaries and condemnation as brazen activists.

The court managed all that with a decision released Tuesday that struck down the death sentence of Christopher Simmons.

He was 17 when he tied up Shirley Crook of Fenton and threw her from a railroad bridge into the Meramec River after a botched robbery in 1993. The ruling says that executing someone who was younger than 18 when the murder was committed would violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

If the ruling stands, Simmons will spend the rest of his life in prison.

The court earned the kudos and brickbats primarily for getting ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court, which last ruled directly on the issue of juvenile offenders in 1989. Then, it permitted the execution of those who were at least 16 at the time of their crimes. The Missouri ruling says that given other decisions the U.S. high court has made in recent years in death penalty cases, it surely has changed its views on this as well.

"This court finds the (U.S.) Supreme Court would today hold such executions are prohibited ..." says the Missouri ruling, written by Judge Laura Denvir Stith.

In the dissent, Judge William Ray Price Jr. wrote that the 4-3 ruling is "directly in conflict" with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. He added, "It is the United States Supreme Court's prerogative, and its alone, to overrule one of its decisions."

Attorney General Jay Nixon agrees with Price. He said he will ask U.S. Supreme Court to review the Missouri decision. Nixon said he disagreed with the court's reasoning and its claim that Simmons should be spared because of age.

"We should live under the rules of the Supreme Court until they're overturned, not use legal Ouija boards," Nixon said. "And I don't believe that Chris Simmons' life would have been turned around by one more birthday party."

Unless the Missouri Supreme Court ruling is overturned, Missouri prosecutors can no longer seek the death penalty against offenders who are younger than 18, said St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch.

Opponents of capital punishment hailed the Simmons ruling. And 3 law school professors who were interviewed for this article endorsed Stith's reasoning. The ruling cited the U.S. court's decision last year barring the execution of mentally retarded offenders and what Stith called growing public opposition to executing juveniles. (All 3 professors oppose the death penalty, at least as currently practiced in Missouri.)

Jeff Stack, legislative coordinator of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, said the ruling "helps us catch up with the norms of most of the world. We welcome a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Another element in the debate is the 4-3 split on the Missouri court. Gov. Bob Holden's appointment in February 2002 of Richard B. Teitelman of St. Louis, a former legal-aid lawyer, gave the Missouri Supreme Court its first majority of Democratic appointees in years.

Since then, the court has reversed proportionately more death cases than it had during the years when Republican appointees of former Gov. John Ashcroft, now U.S. attorney general, held sway. And the 4-3 split, while not common, showed up in 2 other high-profile death cases during the past year.

The same majority voted one year ago to grant a new trial to Kenneth Baumruk, who murdered his wife in a shooting rampage in the St. Louis County Courthouse in 1992. And it also granted the order in April that eventually freed Joseph Amrine. He was sent to death row in 1985 for a prison murder based upon testimony from 3 other inmates who since have recanted.

Joining Stith and Teitelman in the Simmons case Tuesday were judges Ronnie L. White and Michael A. Wolff. Joining Price in dissent were Chief Justice Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. and Duane Benton. Holden appointed Stith and Teitelman, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan appointed White and Wolff, and Ashcroft appointed Price, Limbaugh and Benton before he left the governor's office in 1993.

The Post-Dispatch reviewed state Supreme Court death penalty rulings since 1997, the 1st year in which the court published decisions on its Web site. The review shows the court has affirmed 6 death sentences and reversed 6 others so far this year. Most of those reversals were unanimous rulings.

In 2002, the court affirmed 7 and reversed 6.

That roughly 50-50 reversal rate is much higher than the court's record from 1997 through 2001, when it affirmed 61 death cases and reversed 18. Until March 2001, when Stith was appointed, Ashcroft appointees still had a 5-2 majority on the court.

McCulloch, who criticized the Simmons ruling, said the Missouri Supreme Court "is certainly heading in the direction" of hostility to death sentences. To Stack, of the coalition opposing capital punishment, the court's shift "shows the judges are giving a more critical eye to these cases, rather than serving as a rubber stamp."

Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, called the shift on the court "one of the most undernoticed developments in Missouri government."

"This decision is especially alarming," said Kinder, who also is a lawyer. "It reads like something pulled out of the air. It is not law, properly understood."

Kinder warned that more such decisions could inspire an effort to unseat one of the majority judges when they stand for voter retention. State law requires that Supreme Court judges be retained in office by statewide vote at least 1 year after they are appointed and then every 12 years. Stith was retained last November, but Teitelman must stand before voters next year.

Sen. Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood and majority floor leader in the Missouri Senate, said: "We now have a very activist majority on our court that is stepping into the legislative arena. Presuming what the U.S. Supreme Court might do is not its role."

Stith's ruling goes like this:

In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in separate cases that states could execute offenders who were 16 or older at the time of their crimes and that there was no constitutional bar to executing offenders who may be mentally retarded. Since then, only 6 states, including Missouri, have executed offenders who were younger than 18 at the time. (In 1993, Missouri executed Frederick Lashley of St. Louis, who was 17 when he killed his stepmother, Janie Tracy, in 1981.)

Meanwhile, 5 states outlawed executing juveniles, bringing to 16 the number that prohibit the practice. Numerous religious and civic organizations oppose it, as well as the United Nations. Clearly, therefore, evolving standards in the United States support a ban, the ruling says.

"This court clearly has the authority and obligation to determine the case before it based on current - 2003 - standards of decency," Stith wrote.

In a poll taken in May 2002, the Gallup Organization found that 70 % of its respondents support the death penalty for murderers, but only 26 % endorse executing juveniles.

The Missouri Legislature's spring session considered, but did not pass, bills to raise the minimum age to 18 from the current 16. State Rep. Robert Mayer, R-Dexter and crime committee chairman, said there was no strong push to change it. Missouri considers an offender to be an adult as of his or her 17th birthday, but allows courts to certify 16-year-olds as adults in death cases.

Illinois does not allow execution of offenders who were under 18 when they committed their crimes.

Only 2 people in Illinois have been sentenced to death since January, when outgoing Gov. George Ryan commuted the death sentences of all 167 Illinois death row prisoners.

And the state's freeze on executions remains in force. The Illinois Legislature in June adopted an overhaul of the death penalty system, although Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed a small part that legislators will reconsider in the November veto session.

Other than Simmons, the only other Missouri offender whose case fits the issue is Antonio Richardson. He was 16 when he raped sisters Julie and Robin Kerry and tossed them from the old Chain of Rocks Bridge in 1991.

The 3 law professors who endorsed Stith's reasoning are Roger Goldman of St. Louis University, Peter Joy of Washington University and professor emeritus Edward Hunvald of the University of Missouri. They said death penalty cases are special matters and noted that the U.S. Supreme Court already is known to be 1 vote short of endorsing Stith as well, although it declined to take up a similar case only last January.

"It's like reading tea leaves," said Goldman. "I know that Justice (Sandra Day) O'Connor has her problems with the death penalty, so you're talking about how 1 justice might go. And the court did, all of a sudden, reverse the retardation case."

Said Joy, "The Missouri Supreme Court isn't absolutely bound by old precedent. What it has done is consistent with the (U.S.) Supreme Court's own decision on executing the mentally retarded. . . . It's a fundamental matter of what's right and wrong, and the United States doesn't stand in very good company on the (juvenile) issue."

Hunvald called the state court's strategy "unusual. But one way to look at it is that this approach makes it much more likely for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case."

The Supreme Court ruling that banned the execution of mentally retarded offenders was Atkins v. Virginia.


Court: Death sentence wrong for juveniles

The Daily American Republic – August 28, 2003

Citing changing societal standards, a closely divided Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday declared unconstitutional the execution of offenders who were juveniles at the time they committed their crimes.

The 4-3 decision came in the case of Christopher Simmons, who was 17 years old when he murdered a Jefferson County woman in 1993. A Cape Girardeau County jury found Simmons guilty of 1st-degree murder and recommended the death sentence in 1994.

The court's majority commuted Simmons' death penalty to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Attorney General Jay Nixon said he will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This case flies in the face of U.S. Supreme Court precedent," Nixon said.

Simmons' attorney, Jennifer Herndon of St. Louis, said the federal high court has long recognized that what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment changes with the attitudes of society.

"What this precedent says is we have to be governed by evolving standards of decency," Simmons said.

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing those who committed crimes at age 15 or younger violates the Eighth Amendment. A year later, however, the court upheld capital punishment for juvenile offenders ages 16 and 17.

The same day the latter decision was issued, the court also upheld executions for the mentally retarded. However, the court reversed itself last year, holding that a national consensus against applying capital punishment to the mentally retarded had since developed.

Judge Laura Denvir Stith, who wrote the principal opinion in Simmons' case, found that a similar change has taken place in regard to juveniles.

Since death sentences for juveniles were upheld in 1989, the majority noted that several states have barred such executions and that even where still allowed, few such sentences have been carried out.

Voicing the state court's opinion, Stith wrote, "the execution of persons for crimes committed when they were under 18 years of age violates the 'evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society' and is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment."

Stith's opinion was joined by Chief Justice Ronnie L. White and judges Richard B. Teitelman and Michael A. Wolff.

In dissent, Judge William Ray Price Jr. said only the U.S. Supreme Court can reverse itself.

Price noted that the federal high court has had ample opportunities in recent years to overturn its earlier ruling but chose not to do so. Judges Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. and Duane Benton joined the dissenting opinion.

Of the 38 states that allow the death penalty, Missouri is 1 of 17 states that set age 16 as the minimum to be eligible for capital punishment. Another 5 states allow such sentences for 17-year-olds.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office said it appears Tuesday's ruling, if upheld, would affect only one other Missouri death row inmate.

Tuesday's decision also could affect the case of Antonio Richardson, whose execution was stayed in 2002 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Richardson, was convicted of murdering 2 girls in St. Louis in 1991. He was 16 at the time.

In 1993, Frederick Lashley became the only person since the state took over executions from the counties in 1937 to be put to death for a crime committed as a juvenile.

Body thrown in river

On Sept. 10, 1993, Simmons abducted Shirley Crook after she discovered him breaking into her Jefferson County home. After binding her hands and feet and covering her head, Simmons threw her off a railroad trestle spanning the Meramec River. Her body was later discovered downriver.

After exhausting his regular avenues of appeal in state and federal courts, Simmons was scheduled for execution in June 2002. The imposition of sentence was delayed after Simmons sought a writ of habeas corpus, which the court granted Tuesday.

Simmons, now 27, is incarcerated at the Potosi Correctional Center.


Missouri Supreme Court stays Simmons execution

Agence France-Presse

May 28, 2002

ST. LOUIS, Missouri - The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the execution of Christopher Simmons for a murder he committed when he was 17 years old.

The stay, which postponed the execution indefinitely, came on the same day that Texas executed Napoleon Beazley for committing a murder at the same age.

Simmons' execution was stayed pending the outcome of a capital case now before the US Supreme Court, which will decide whether the execution of a mentally retarded person violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

Simmons' attorneys contend he was mentally ill when he and two younger boys kidnapped Shirley Crook and threw her off a bridge to her death.

Simmons' age at the time of the murder has also been an issue.

A recent effort in the Missouri legislature to raise the age limit for the death penalty from its present level of 16 failed to pass.


Murderous adolescents, Napoleon and Chris, await their turn to die by Patrick Anidjar

Agence France-Presse

May 27, 2002

WASHINGTON - The black Texan and the white Missourian sit on death row in different states, don't know each other and seem to have little in common, other than the fact that they are scheduled to die by lethal injection.

What unites them is that Napoleon Beazley, 25, and Chris Simmons, 26 are scheduled to become the 19th and 20th people executed in the United States since 1976 for crimes they committed as minors, both at the age of 17.

"The execution of Mr. Beazley will occur at 6:00 pm (2300 GMT) in Huntsville" on Tuesday, May 28, said Larry Fitzgerald spokesman for the Texas department of criminal justice.

Simmons is due to be executed June 5, in Jefferson City, in the central US state of Missouri.

The men's lawyers are doing what they can to stay the executions, with the US Supreme Court as a last resort.

Beazley, the son of an alderman in Grapeland, Texas, had no criminal record before he was convicted in the 1994 killing of John Luttig, a 63-year-old Texas businessman and the father of a judge.

His son, Michael Luttig, who is from a federal appeals court in Virginia, has worked in the past with three Supreme Court justices.

The three have had to recuse themselves so as not to be involved in Beazley's case.

The young man's execution was initially scheduled for last August. But it was delayed by an appeals court in Texas amid doubts about the quality of defense received by Beazley while his appeal was being considered.

As in Beazley's case, the murder committed by Simmons has never been contested.

This smart-looking young man with blond hair was sentenced to death for the murder of a woman whose apartment he burgled. He later threw her into the Meramec River in Missouri state.

His execution was initially set for late April but was rescheduled by the Missouri Supreme Court for June 5.

Since the death penalty was reestablished in the United States in 1976, Missouri courts have sentenced to death four people who were minors at the time they committed their crimes. Only one of them has so far been executed.

The last time the Supreme Court ruled on the age of death row inmates was in 1989.

Then, the high court found that it would be unconstitutional to imposed the death penalty on a person who was only 15 when the crime was committed.

Of a total of 38 US states that enforce the death penalty, 17 states, including Missouri, have a minimum age to receive it of 16.

In five states, including Texas, the death penalty eligibility age was set at 17, while 16 states don't execute anyone younger than 18.

Many organizations, including Amnesty International, the European Union and Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, have urged the authorities of Texas and Missouri to spare the lives of Beazley and Simmons.

"We are holding our breath," said Steve Harper, director of Juvenile Justice Project, a group that provides minors legal help. "There has been a tremendous amount of interest in both cases."

Harper said he hoped authorities would consider commuting the sentences of both men.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently 83 inmates on death row in the United States who were minors at the time they committed their crimes.


Missouri Supreme Court postpones execution of juvenile offender

By Shashank Bengali - The Kansas City Star

Christopher Simmons was 17 when he and another teen-ager broke into a suburban St. Louis woman's home, robbed her, bound her with electrical cable and duct tape, and drove her to a bridge over the Meramec River.

Then, according to court records, Simmons pushed Shirley Crook into the river, killing her. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to die by injection.

His case is among many nationwide that have come under growing scrutiny as death penalty opponents have stepped up their fight against executing offenders who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes.

Simmons, now 26, was slated to die this Wednesday, but last week he won a brief reprieve when the Missouri Supreme Court -- with no explanation -- postponed his execution until June 5.

The decision surprised observers, some of whom speculated that the court might have wanted to delay the execution until after the legislative session.

State Sen. Roseann Bentley, a Springfield Republican, has sponsored a bill that would raise the minimum age for executions to 18 at the time the crime was committed. A similar bill sponsored by Rep. Craig Hosmer, a Springfield Democrat, is pending in the House.

Missouri law currently allows the death penalty for first-degree murder convictions of anyone older than 16.

Bentley said she wasn't familiar with the Simmons case when she filed her bill.

"I just felt that juveniles are immature and malleable, and those circumstances ought to be taken into consideration," Bentley said. "In almost every other legal matter we don't consider people adults until they're 18, and that's why I filed the bill.

"Of course, after I filed it, I heard about Chris Simmons."

Bentley's bill remains stalled in committee, and with only three weeks left in the legislative session -- and contentious issues such as the budget and a stadium bill yet to be resolved -- lawmakers will have to hustle in order to get to it.

"My bill, unfortunately, is not on a fast track," she said. "I think it's a very good possibility, at this late date, it may not make it."

Bentley is leaving the Senate after this session because of term limits. She said, however, that the issue probably would not fade in Missouri because of mounting criticism of juvenile executions nationwide.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year indefinitely stayed the execution of Missouri inmate Antonio Richardson, who was 16 at the time of his crime. Richardson was convicted for his role in the 1991 deaths of two sisters who were pushed off an abandoned Mississippi River bridge in north St. Louis. The court reversed the death sentence of another Missouri inmate, Heath Wilkins, who was convicted in the 1985 stabbing death of store clerk Nancy Allen in Avondale, in Clay County. He also was 16 at the time of his crime.

Earlier this month, Indiana became the 28th state to bar juveniles from the death penalty. That number includes 12 states that outlaw capital punishment altogether. According to the American Bar Association, proposals to bar the execution of juveniles also are being considered in Texas, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Kentucky and Mississippi.

Death penalty foes note that only four other nations allow the execution of juveniles: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire).

Since reinstating the death penalty in 1977, Missouri has sent to death row four persons who were younger than 18 when they committed their crimes. Only one, Frederick Lashley, has been executed.

Some argue that raising the minimum age would be perceived as softening Missouri's stance on crime.

During Simmons' trial, in 1994, the Jefferson County prosecutor said the crime was so severe that Simmons' age should not be considered a mitigating factor.

"Seventeen years old," the prosecutor told the jury. "Doesn't that scare you? Mitigating? Quite the contrary, I submit."

Simmons was one of four Missouri inmates who appeared in an anti-death penalty ad campaign by the Italian clothier Benetton. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon sued the company.

A settlement last summer called for Benetton to apologize to the families whose relatives were killed by inmates featured in the ads and required the company to donate $50,000 to the Missouri Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

Several rallies have been held in St. Louis and Jefferson City asking Gov. Bob Holden to spare Simmons, citing his age at the time of the crime as well as the fact that he suffers from schizotypal personality disorder, which is marked by extreme social anxiety and paranoia.

The court-ordered delay was a surprising move, observers said. Spokesmen for Nixon and Holden said they neither requested the delay nor knew why it was granted. Simmons' attorney, Jennifer Brewer, said she had not filed any pleas.

"The court did this entirely on their own," Brewer said.

The defense team still plans to submit last-minute pleas for clemency, Brewer said.

She added that Simmons was heartened by the court's decision.

"He's happy, obviously," Brewer said. "He figures, if it's only another month, it's another month to live."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. – April 29, 2003


State of Missouri v. Christopher Simmons

944 S.W.2d 165 (Mo. banc 1997)

Case Facts: 

In early September 1993, Simmons then 17, discussed with his friends, Charlie Benjamin (age 15) and John Tessmer (age 16), the possibility of committing a burglary and murdering someone.

On several occasions, Simmons described the manner in which he planned to commit the crime: he would find someone to burglarize, tie the victim up, and ultimately push the victim off a bridge. Simmons assured his friends that their status as juveniles would allow them to "get away with it."

Simmons apparently believed that a "voodoo man" who lived in a nearby trailer park would be the best victim. Rumor had it that the voodoo man owned hotels and motels and had lots of money despite his residence in a mobile home park.

On September 8, 1993, Simmons arranged to meet Benjamin and Tessmer at around 2:00 a.m. the following morning for the purpose of carrying out the plan. The boys met at the home of Brian Moomey, a 29-year old convicted felon who allowed neighbor teens to "hang out" at his home. Tessmer met Simmons and Benjamin, but refused to go with them and returned to his own home. Simmons and Benjamin left Moomey’s and went to Shirley Crook’s house to commit a burglary.

The two found a back window cracked open at the rear of Crook’s home. They opened the window, reached through, unlocked the back door, and entered the house. Moving through the house, Simmons turned on a hallway light. The light awakened Mrs. Crook, who was home alone. She sat up in bed and asked, "Who’s there?" Simmons entered her bedroom and recognized Mrs. Crook as a woman with whom he had previously had an automobile accident. Mrs. Crook apparently recognized him as well.

Simmons ordered Mrs. Crook out of her bed and on to the floor with Benjamin’s help. While Benjamin guarded Mrs. Crook in the bedroom, Simmons found a roll of duct tape, returned to the bedroom and bound her hands behind her back. They also taped her eyes and mouth shut. They walked Mrs. Crook from her home and placed her in the back of her mini-van. Simmons drove the can from Mrs. Crook’s home in Jefferson County to Castlewood State Park in St. Louis County.

At the park, Simmons drove the van to a railroad trestle that spanned the Meramec River. Simmons parked the van near the railroad trestle. He and Benjamin began to unload Mrs. Crook from the van and discovered that she had freed her hands and had removed some of the duct tape from her face.

Using her purse strap, the belt from her bathrobe, a towel from the back of the van, and some electrical wire found on the trestle, Simmons and Benjamin found Mrs. Crook, restraining her hands and feet and covering her head with the towel.

Simmons and Benjamin walked Mrs. Crook to the railroad trestle. There, Simmons bound her hands and feet together, hog-tie fashion, with the electrical cable and covered Mrs. Crook’s face completely with duct tape.

Simmons then pushed her off the railroad trestle into the river below. At the time she fell, Mrs. Crook was alive and conscious. Simmons and Benjamin then Mrs. Crook’s purse in to the woods and drove the van back to the mobile home park across from the subdivision in which she lived.

Her body was found later that afternoon by two fishermen. Simmons was arrested the next day, September 10, at his high school.


Christopher Simmons was scheduled to be executed on June 5, 2002 (postponed from May 1, 2002). The Missouri Supreme Court issued a stay of that execution.


Missouri Supreme Court resentences Christopher to life without parole. (August 26, 2003, Jefferson City, Missouri) A habeas corpus proceeding from Jefferson County involving the constitutionality of the death penalty for a juvenile who committed murder in St. Louis County. It was argued Wednesday, March 5, 2003. In a 4-3 decision written by Judge Stith, the Court set aside Simmons' death sentence and resentenced him to life imprisonment without eligibility for probation, parole or release except by act of the governor. Judge Wolff concurred in the majority opinion and also wrote a separate concurring opinion, and Judge Price wrote a dissenting opinion.



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