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Wisconsin Supreme Court keeps life sentence for juvenile: Part I

In January, we wrote that the Wisconsin Supreme Court was reviewing an unusual and difficult case of juvenile crime. The Court needed to decide whether or not to uphold a sentence of life without parole for a man who killed another teenager when he was only 14 years old.

The Court's ruling was delivered this month, and the man's life sentence was upheld. This case, as well as other juvenile crime cases, have been controversial and have put Wisconsin in the spotlight for its hard-line treatment of young defendants. We'll examine the issue more closely in a series of posts this week and next week.

The crime took place in 1998 when the defendant was just 14. The defendant and four other juveniles were involved in the murder of a 13-year-old Hmong boy in Green Bay.

According to police reports, the group did not know the 13-year-old, but they attacked him as he was riding his bike. After knocking him off his bike and beating him, the group chased him to the top of a parking ramp in Green Bay.

Next, police say, the defendant and another youth grabbed the boy and dangled him over the edge of the ramp. At the urging of other group members, they dropped the victim and he fell five stories to his death.

A jury convicted the defendant of first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

When upholding this strict sentence, one Supreme Court Justice wrote: "We describe the facts of this case with an understanding that this horrific and senseless crime cannot adequately be reduced into words."

There is little disagreement that the crime was horrific. However, those who oppose the strict sentence argue that juvenile defendants cannot ethically be held to the same standards as adults. Check back later this week as we continue our discussion about the difficult issue of juveniles who commit serious and violent crimes.

Source: Journal-Sentinel online,"Sentence of life without parole for teen upheld," Bruce Vielmetti, 20 May 2011

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