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Kill The Boy? Yes or No? [James Kilpatrick] Suppose we talk today about the murder of Melissa Mills and the trial of Renaldo Adams. An ugly crime has led to a troublesome sentence.
This is undisputed: In Montgomery, Ala., a
The facts in the case of Christopher Simmons
Since that was decided a year ago, Chief
little before 11 o’clock on the night of Aug.
were as appalling as the facts in the case
Justice William Rehnquist has died and
20, 1997, Adams burst into the home of the
of Renaldo Adams. Young Simmons and an
Justice O’Connor has retired. The changes
Andrew Mills family. Mills had dropped off to
accomplice kidnapped Shirley Crook in the
have brought a new chief justice, John G.
sleep in the living room. His pregnant wife,
middle of the night, bound her in duct tape,
Roberts, and a new associate justice, Samuel
“Missy,” and their three young children were
and threw her into the Meramec River a few
Alito. For good or ill, an old rule may govern
asleep in their rooms.
miles south of St. Louis. They killed her for
the outcome: The more things change, the
the fun of it, after boasting that they would
more they stay the same.
Adams threatened Mills with a boning knife,
never be punished because they were only
robbed him of what cash he had on hand, and
17. The accomplice turned state’s evidence.
stupidly ordered him to go to an automatic
Simmons was sentenced to death.
Alabama’s attorney general, Troy King, has filed a persuasive petition in the pending Adams case. “There is no principled basis,”
banking machine and get some more. As soon as Mills left, Adams raped his wife,
Missouri’s Supreme Court, after first
he contends, “for concluding that 17-year-
stabbed her repeatedly and killed her unborn
affirming, reversed itself in 2003 and the
old murderers, as a class, are categorically
child. Mills soon returned with police. Missy
case went up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
incapable of acting with a degree of moral
Mills died that night of massive wounds to
There it led to the high court’s 5-4 decision
culpability deserving of society’s severest
her neck, liver and lungs. An Alabama jury
a year ago in which Justice Anthony
punishment.” He concedes that some
found Adams guilty of murder in the first
Kennedy laid down the new rule on capital
youths are not capable. But others most
degree and voted 10-2 for his execution.
punishment: In a warmly concurring opinion,
assuredly are — and if sentencing “is to have
Justice John Paul Stevens praised the
any mooring in reality, culpability must be
Those are the facts. This is another fact: At
alternative life sentence as a manifestation
assessed on an individualized basis.”
the time of the crime in 1997, Adams was 17
of the court’s “evolving standards of
years and 2 months old.
The usual appeals ensued. In 2003 the
Kennedy’s opinion drew strong criticism
sound course to be pursued in appraising
Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
as an unwarranted piece of judicial
the court’s leap to constitutional judgment.
affirmed the death sentence. Then the case
activism. Writing in The New Republic,
There is no massive, demonstrable rush
languished while the U.S. Supreme Court
professor Jeffrey Rosen called it “careless,”
among the states to lower the minimum age
heard argument and pondered the similar
“embarrassing,” “analytically sloppy and
at which juveniles are exempt from capital
case of young Christopher Simmons in
glib.” Within the court, Justice Sandra
punishment. It is a time for the states to
Missouri. He too had been sentenced to death
Day O’Connor strongly dissented. Justice
make haste slowly.
for murder. On March 1 a year ago, the U.S.
Antonin Scalia delivered a withering dissent:
Supreme Court set aside Simmons’ sentence
Kennedy’s reasoning, said Scalia, was
In his majority opinion for the court a year
with a sweeping decree: Persons under the
“astounding,” “implausible,” a “mockery” of
ago in the Simmons case, Justice Kennedy
age of 18 may no longer be sentenced to
the first principles of jurisprudence.
intrepidly asserted, “A line must be drawn.”
This strikes me as a sound view of human behavior. More to the point, it suggests a
death in the United States. Such punishment
So he drew it at the age of 18. My own
has become “cruel and unusual” under the
We will learn shortly if the Supreme Court
thought is that if a new line must be drawn,
is willing to plunge back into the thicket
let the states draw it one by one.
created by its opinion in the Simmons case.
continued on back
(Letters to Mr. Kilpatrick should be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.) COPYRIGHT 2005 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of uclick and Universal Press Syndicate.
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Published on Nov 5, 2012
The murder of Melissa Mills and the trial of Renaldo Adams. An Alabama jury found Adams guilty of murder in the first degree and voted 10-2...