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COURT REPORTER

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.

decency.”

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,

Constitution.

is willing to plunge back into the thicket

let the states draw it one by one.

created by its opinion in the Simmons case.

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COURT REPORTER

(Letters to Mr. Kilpatrick should be sent by e-mail to kilpatjj@aol.com.) 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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Kill The Boy? Yes or No?