During my first year as judge and for the next five years if a juvenile committed a serious violent offense we had the discretion to decide if a child should remain in juvenile court or could be tried under ordinary law. Children were not eligible for the death penalty. Kentucky then changed the law removing judicial discretion and allowed juveniles to qualify for the death penalty.
In one of the death-qualified cases I sent to the grand jury, neither the juvenile court nor the trial court was informed of the horrific abuse the defendant witnessed as a child. Years later, the U.S. Supreme Court found this was unconstitutional. Great work by Kentucky attorneys Gail Robinson and Kevin McNally brought attention to this anomaly of law.
In 1982, my wife’s parents were murdered in LaPorte, Ind. My father-in-law was the mayor; they were attacked by a disgruntled, city employee. I witnessed the grief and pain their slayings brought to my wife and her six siblings. Personally, I had problems saying the Lord’s Prayer in church.
The prosecutor allowed the family to make a decision whether to seek the death penalty. After prayerful consideration, the family decided not to seek death in part for some form of finality and a belief in the sanctity of life.
After their murders, I no longer tried criminal cases and stayed in juvenile and family court. I could not trust myself while still struggling with grief and anger.
In a civilized society, we give up our right for vengeance to the state with the expectation that a fair trial with due process will determine guilt or innocence. It is important that victims get a sense of finality. Life without parole or determinate sentencing gives finality where victims can process their grief. It also saves them from being subjected to numerous and costly court procedures.
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