Thursday, July 15, 2004

Parents by Lottery

Right now, a team of lawyers are putting the finishing touches on a set of amicus (amici?) briefs in the case of Roper v. Simmons. For those who don't know, this is a case out of Missouri that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, probably in October. The case will test the constitutionality of the death penalty for juvenile offenders, i.e., whose who commit murder when they are 16 or 17.

The approaching deadline for briefs to be filed reminded me of the last time a juvenile offender was executed in the United States. That would be Scott Hain, executed by the state of Oklahoma in April of 2003.

The following is something I wrote shortly after Scott's execution for another blog (demagogue, which is managed mostly by friends of mine at another nonprofit advocacy group, which for the protection of the innocent shall remain nameless):

Steve Presson waved at his client, Scott, through the window. Scott’s arms and legs were tightly bound, but he acknowledged Steve with a slight nod.

They asked Scott if he wanted to make a statement. He did not.

And moments later, at 8:39 p.m. April 3, 2003 on a warm spring evening in McAlester, Oklahoma, Scott Hain became the first person executed this year anywhere in the world for a crime committed before he turned 18 years old.

Only the United States, Congo and Iran are currently among the world’s countries that execute youthful offenders. (Update: Iran's Parliament banned the practice in December 2003; this action is awaiting approval by that country's Governing Council.) Countries that recently have abolished the juvenile death penalty include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen and the Philippines.

If you want to learn more about the issue of youthful offender executions, go here:

If you want to learn more about the moratorium movement in the U.S. go here:

But this rant isn’t about youthful offender executions or even about the death penalty, really. It’s more about scummy parents.

In the days leading up to Scott’s execution, Steve spent several hours on the phone with him, as many as he could when he wasn’t frantically working on new appeals. Scott told Steve that should it come down to it, he wanted his parents to witness his execution, and he wanted them to take possession of his ashes after he was cremated.

It’s ironic, really, but the approximately 15 years that Scott spent on death row were the most normal years of his life. His father, a heavy drinker, physically abused him and introduced him to marijuana when he was nine or ten. He was sexually molested by a babysitter when he was eight years old, and he dropped out of school at 14 and, with his father’s help, began a life of burglary and petty crime. He was released from juvenile detention facilities at age 17, and began to drug and drink heavily.

That’s when the horrifying murder took place. He and another guy kidnapped this couple, put them in the trunk of a car and set the car on fire. If one were to believe in the death penalty, and I don’t under any circumstance, never, ever, that’s the kind of crime it was probably invented for.

All that by way of background. Flash back forward to a conversation Steve and Scott had on Wednesday the week before he was executed. Scott met with his parents the previous day, and they informed him that they would not be hanging around for his execution, and they did not want his remains. This devastated Scott, even though his parents had not visited him in more than a decade. Scott and Steve talked about what kind of person Scott could have been if he had been fortunate enough to be born to other parents. Scott knew that Steve had recently married, and asked him if he planned to have children.

Steve said he did.

“You’ll be a good father,” Scott said. “Your kids won’t turn out like me.”

Scott’s execution came the following evening, after a flurry of appeals that actually had some of us thinking his life might be at least temporarily spared. His parents, true to their word, weren’t there to bear witness.

But then, they needn’t have been there. They helped kill Scott long ago.

1 comment:

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