Who speaks for Cole Cannon?
Nearly 10 years ago, in Lawrence County, Ala., a 14-year-old boy holding a baseball bat stood over a man he had robbed and repeatedly beaten, telling him, “I am God. I’ve come to take your life.”
After hitting the man in the head a final time with the bat, the 14-year-old and a friend set the man’s trailer on fire. Despite the beating, Cole Cannon was still alive and conscious. He managed to ask, “Why are y’all doing this to me?” Then he was burned alive.
The boy, Evan Miller, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, even though he was just 14 when he committed the crime. His friend, 16 at the time of the crime, was allowed to plead guilty to felony murder in exchange for testimony, and sentenced to life with a chance of parole.
Miller’s case, along with the Arkansas case of a defendant who also was sentenced to life without parole for a homicide committed at age 14, is set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday.
At issue is whether the Constitution bans a sentence of life without parole for those who committed murder while under age 18, or whether some crimes are so repellent they demand the harshest punishment short of the death penalty, no matter what the age of the defendant…
The odds are pretty good the U.S. Supreme Court, or at least a narrow majority of the nine justices, will find the Miller sentence and others like it constitutionally excessive…
“This case presents important constitutional questions regarding the propriety of imposing a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole on a 14-year-old child … ,” his petition to the Supreme Court said. “Evan Miller is one of only 73 [U.S.] children who have been condemned to be imprisoned until death for an offense committed when they were 14 years of age or younger. Evan, like nearly all of these young adolescents, was sentenced under a statute that made a life-without-parole sentence mandatory, precluding any consideration of his age or other mitigating circumstances which would call for a sentence of less than lifelong incarceration. …
More and more often I reject the concept of mandatory sentences. First, because anyone called by appointment or election to be a judge should be capable of making such decisions. If not, it is the responsibility of those who put him or her in office to rectify the mistake. Second, circumstances can vary widely enough to allow for a complete human and humane range of responses to crime.
In general – for example – I do not support the death penalty. Do I think it should be removed as a choice? No. Once again, I support a solution placing responsibility for final judgement under the guidance of a judge – not what may be a slogan for re-election.
I will never forget what we’re judging is a sentence for someone found guilty of a terrible crime. Who speaks for the victim?