Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Seventy-two juvenile killers on death rows nationwide, including Virginia’s Shermaine Ali Johnson, likely will receive new sentences after the Supreme Court yesterday issued a precedent-setting ruling that blocks the execution of inmates convicted before turning 18.

Johnson, sentenced in July 1994 in the rape and murder of a 22-year-old Petersburg, Va., woman, Hope Denise Hall, is Virginia’s only death-row inmate convicted as a teen. Johnson, when 16, stabbed Ms. Hall 15 times and slit her throat.

On death row since February 1999, Johnson, who also is serving a 100-year sentence for the rape of two other women, was arrested after a DNA database computer search matched his DNA to blood and semen found in Ms. Hall’s apartment. She was a mother and a part-time associate producer at a television station.

The court’s 5-4 decision in a Missouri case, which expanded a 1988 ruling outlawing the execution of those 15 and younger as cruel and unusual punishment, is expected to affect a dozen states where juvenile killers sit on death row following their convictions as 16- and 17-year-olds.

Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The execution of juveniles ages 16 and 17 also is allowed in Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Utah, but they currently have none on death row.

Twenty-two juveniles have been executed in this country since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Convicted juveniles now on death row include:

• Patrick Horn, who was sentenced in October 1999 in the murder of an 8-year-old Texas boy, whose body he dismembered and buried in shallow graves. Horn left the child’s skull in a grocery sack in front of the boy’s uncle’s house. He also was charged for robbing two banks and participating in the fatal carjacking of an elderly fruit vendor.

• Mark Anthony Duke, who was 16 at the time of his March 1997 conviction in Alabama in the execution-style murder of his father, his father’s girlfriend and her two daughters, ages 6 and 7. Duke and his accomplices hunted their victims down, then shot the adults and slit the throats of the children. He has been on death row since March 1999.

• Cleo Douglas LeCroy, who was 17 at the time he was convicted of robbery and murder in the January 1981 death of a couple on a camping trip in Palm Beach, Fla. The man was killed with a single shotgun blast to the head. The woman was shot with a .38-caliber pistol in the head, neck and chest. He has been on death row since November 1986.

• Roy Bridgewater, sentenced in March 1999 in the murder of a 70-year-old woman and her 45-year-old son during what Louisiana police said was a six-day reign of terror. The pair was killed during a burglary of their home. Bridgewater also was convicted of pistol-whipping another victim and threatening to cut off a man’s finger to get his wedding ring. He was 17 at the time of the crimes.

All of the juvenile offenders now on death row are male and were convicted and sentenced to death for murder, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. Twenty-nine are housed in Texas, 14 in Alabama, five in Mississippi, four each in Arizona, Louisiana and North Carolina, three each in Florida and South Carolina, two each in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and one each in Nevada and Virginia.

Nearly half of those now held on death row were sentenced more than 10 years ago.

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