The May 28 Texas execution of Napolean Beazley drew sharp criticism from many human rights groups. Beazley, an African American man, was 17 when he shot and killed John Luttig, a wealthy white businessman whose son is a federal judge. Texas is one of seven states that has carried out an execution of a juvenile offender.

Many organizations, including the American Bar Association (ABA), the American Psychiatric Association and the Children’s Defense Fund, oppose the execution of juvenile offenders. They argue that cognitive abilities, emotions, judgment, impulse control, identity – even the brain – are still developing throughout adolescence. This is why the U.S. does not allow those under 18 to assume the major responsibilities of adulthood such as military combat service, voting, entering into contracts, drinking alcohol or making medical decisions.

“This is not to say that juvenile offenders do not know right from wrong and should not be punished, but that we as a society and a legal system have deemed that juveniles are simply different from adults,” argues the ABA.

The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that executes people who commit a crime when under the age of 18. The 44-nation Council of Europe condemned the Beazley execution and said it must be “vehemently criticized” because Beazley was a minor at the time of his crime.

In an April 29 letter urging a stay of execution for Beazley the ACLU wrote, “While the Supreme Court has not ruled that imposing the death penalty on a 17-year-old is unconstitutional, it has expressed the view that youth, like mental retardation, can reduce a person’s criminal culpability.” The ACLU went on to say that support for the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles is declining and sited a February 2001 poll that found a majority of Texans do not support the death penalty for juveniles.

Beazley, who had no criminal record before the Luttig murder, was known as a good student who got caught up in the drug trade. After the murder Beazley showed instant remorse and took responsibility for his actions and was known as a “model” prisoner, all legal arguments against a death sentence.

However, an all-white jury sentenced Beazley to death April 19, 1994. A campaign to commute his sentence to life in prison resulted in a stay of execution in August 2001. Yet when the stay was over, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles refused by a 10-7 vote to commute his death sentence to a life prison term. The Supreme Court rejected an appeal and a request to halt the punishment. Justices Scalia, Souter and Thomas had to recuse themselves because of their relationship to the Luttig family.

Numerous reports have found the death penalty to be racially and geographically biased. A recent blue ribbon commission in Illinois found no less than 85 basic flaws in the death penalty and Maryland’s Gov. Parris Glendening declared a moratorium after reports of bias in the administration of the death penalty. Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium over two years ago.

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