Why Is The US Still Executing Teenage Offenders?

18 and 19 and 20 year-olds are not considered responsible enough decision makers to drink legally, yet they can be held fully responsible for their crimes and sentenced to the ultimate, irreversible punishment of death.

Texas is preparing to execute Yokamon Hearn on July 18th. If his execution is carried out, he would become the 483rd person put to death since Texas resumed executions in 1982.

Yokamon Hearn was 19 years old when he and 3 other youths set out to steal a car. They ended up shooting and killing Frank Meziere, a 23-year-old stockbroker. All four defendants were charged with capital murder, but the other three plead guilty and received deals. One got life imprisonment, the other two got ten years for aggravated robbery.

Yokamon Hearn was a teenager at the time of his crime, but not a juvenile. Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of Child lays out the international standard for not executing juvenile offenders, defined as those who were under 18 at the time of the crime. (The U.S. is the only country except for Somalia that has not ratified this treaty.)

Likewise, Part III of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which the U.S. is a Party) also calls on states to prohibit the execution of offenders under 18. Upon ratification of the this treaty in 1992, the U.S. explicitly reserved for itself the right to ignore this provision and continue to kill these young offenders. But finally in 2005, with the Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. put an end to executions of anyone under 18 at the time of the crime.

None of this helps Yokamon Hearn. Yet eighteen is an arbitrary age. There is no magic age at which one suddenly becomes a responsible adult, fully capable of making smart, informed decisions and not acting on impulse. Recent science tells us that brain development continues well into one’s 20′s, as does psychological and emotional maturation.

18 and 19 and 20 year-olds are not considered responsible enough decision makers to drink legally, yet they can be held fully responsible for their crimes and sentenced to the ultimate, irreversible punishment of death.  On he one hand, we seek to protect our youth from their immaturity; on the other we punish (and even kill) them for it.

The fact that their development has not been fully realized also means that young offenders who may have carried out impulsive, thoughtless actions as teenagers are more likely than their adult counterparts to successfully change and redeem their past mistakes. Executing people for crimes committed when they were teenagers ignores the fact that, in prison, they can grow up and become productive, functioning members of society.

Despite extensive scientific evidence of the differences between youth and adults related to culpability, decision making, and susceptibility to peer pressure, U.S. states continue to execute people for crimes committed when they were teenagers. Since 1982 Texas alone has killed at least 70 people who were aged 17, 18 or 19 at the time of their crime. This practice needs to stop immediately.

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13 thoughts on “Why Is The US Still Executing Teenage Offenders?

  1. Thanks for this important article. Please also follow the case of Bernardo Tercero (Nicaraguan national) in Texas, who has a birth certificate claim, certified as genuine by Nicaraguan authorities, that he was under 18 at the commission of his crime. This matter is currently at Federal appeal, but thus far the Texas authorities are resisting proper review and an evidentiary hearing.

  2. It is so shameful that there are still politicians in this country who believe that the solution for these men who made terrible mistakes at such a young age is to kill them to protect society. The rest of the Western World has learned that there is a better way. Our brutality and hypocrisy in carrying out such acts are in stark contrast to any claims that our nation may make of being humane or just.

  3. Petition might be of good use.
    Citizen/voters are responsible for lawmaker's education, moral or corruption. They prevent no crime by capital punishment.

  4. Frank Meziere (a completely defenseless, unarmed 23 year old young man himself) pled for his life – with his hands in the air. Having just kidnapped Frank and carjacking his car – Yokamon Hearn taunted Frank pointing at his face with the barrel of his rifle and waiving the front of his Tec-9 assault rifle back and forth across his face. This tough guy with a gun fired round after round into his head. Killing him and shooting him 10 times in the head. Yokamon bragged that he "domed" Frank – some kind of slang for shooting him in the head – with his friends. He was old enough to have a mile long criminal record. He was a predator, a burglar, countless robberies, assaults and sexual assaults. You have an issue cause Yokamon was 19 1/2 years old and wasn't old enough to legally purchase alcohol? NEXT!

    • You raise a very important point: I firmly believe that Yokamon Hearn must be punished according to the law. We are talking about the (not accidental) death of a human being. However, this post also raises a very important point: death is an irreversible punishment that does no good for any one. It is the ultimate violation of human rights.

  5. Brian No-Last-Name and EmGib, you ALWAYS demand that killers like Yokamon Hearn be executed and fry in hell so that "justice will be served for victims' families"! You ALWAYS shun families of inmates like Hearn and rejoice with victims' families when inmates are killed by state-sponsored murder in spite of imperfections in the justice system and unfair trials, which you ALWAYS ignored! You are all a big "screw you!" to AIUSA and NEVER care at all! Only God will judge you according to your deeds and hypocrisy!

    • Debbie you go ahead and cry a river with Hearns and his family. I on the other hand, like the majority of American citizens will bid this pos good riddance. You can have his family over for dinner if you want if it makes you feel better all warm and fuzzy you pathetic tree hugging fool. It is obvious YOU could care less about his innocent law abiding victim frank m. OR his loved ones. God less Texas!!

      • I agree. But me thinks u meant God BLESS Texas…darn typos. And once again i agree with you. This waste of oxygen is now gone and the world is no a little bit better place because of it. Like you said….GOD BLESS TEXAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • Sorry, meant the world is a little bit better place because of it. Hate typos.

  6. Even a 10 year old understands the difference between right and wrong. Mr. Hearn is going to be executed because he is guilty of murder.

  7. easy solution is not to kill someone, then you have a much better chance of not being executed..

  8. old enough to do an adult crime than he can do adult time. having worked at the polunsky unit i have personally seen this man, dont let them fool you. what u see is not what i see. is he fighting for his life yes, i would to but fact is he was sentenced to death. go to the tdcj website and read last statements my offenders just before death. they change there toon. fact is he is trying everyting in his power to deep from having to face his maker. funny the other guy who he killed didnt have that chance. maybe we shouldnt give them the chance either

  9. Under the age of 18, yes, but Mr. Hearn was 19 when he murdered. So this argument is moot… Also, I would have never thought that Mr. Evans of AIUSA would lead us into this fallacy of an argument citing drinking. There is absolutely no relationship in any shape or form here. Desperate measures, heh?

    AIUSA – is 18 an arbitrary age? Not according to the Convention you cite so abundantly. Europena Union considers 18-year olds adults (drinking and otherwise) and brain development issue is not in the equation. Have you relalized that the information cited to support this post, actually works against your argument. Just pointing out the obvious fallacy in your logic…