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Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

Death penalty case involves state teen

Sunday, October 24, 2004

There are so many difficult questions facing our society that it truly boggles the mind to unravel the starkly different sides to countless issues. Many of these "questions without answers" seep their way into the Presidential contest. But many others just languish under society's radar screen.

One of those interesting questions revolves around youthful murderers. At what age - or any age for that matter - will society tolerate the death penalty. If a 17-year-old youth kills someone, what punishment should apply. The question is headed to the Supreme Court and the case involves a Missouri murder.

Here's the background. Just over a decade ago, Christopher Simmons was a 17-year-old trailer trash hood. He was already familiar with alcohol, marijuana, skipping school and petty crimes. His background was all-too-familiar. Broken home, abusive stepfather, poverty, etc.

But something else was brewing inside Simmons. He openly discussed his desire to kill someone just to see what it was like. It was no juvenile boast. And to compound the issue, Simmons also bragged openly to anyone who would listen that because of his age, he thought he could get away with murder.

Well true to his boast, Simmons and a cohort decided to murder a trailer park neighbor. Fortunate for the neighbor, he was not home at the appointed time. So Simmons and friend decided to walk into a nearby subdivision and kill at the first opportunity.

There they found 46-year-old Shirley Crook at home alone. She had made the fatal mistake of leaving a window open. The two teenagers beat and bound the woman, stole her van and drove to a river bridge. There they beat and bound her some more and then threw her from the bridge. Fishermen found the body the following day.

Simmons had told so many people of his plan that police had little work to do. He was arrested and quickly confessed. But Simmons still believed his age would "render him immune" to the death penalty so he rejected a deal for a life sentence. The jury quickly convicted Simmons and gave him the death penalty. But the Missouri Supreme Court reduced the sentence to life.

Through appeals, the case is now before the United States Supreme Court. That court will decide at what age murderers can indeed receive the death penalty. And Chris Simmons is an excellent starting point.

When many of our current laws were enacted, let's accept the fact that society was much different. Some changes through the years have been for the better, some not.

The evolution of drugs and weapons and the manner of youth have changed substantially over the years. It's impossible to find a compelling argument that Simmons' age should shield him from the death penalty. He fully knew the consequences of his actions. In this case - and so many others - age is actually irrelevant.

Christopher Simmons may have had a tough upbringing. And he may have been stupid for his age. But he killed a fellow human being, he knew what he was doing, he made the choice



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