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Youth Offenders with Life IN Prison Asking for a Second Chance

by on April 22, 2011

From the NY Times

CHARLESTON, Mo. — More than a decade ago, a 14-year-old boy killed his stepbrother in a scuffle that escalated from goofing around with a blowgun to an angry threat with a bow and arrow to the fatal thrust of a hunting knife.

The boy, Quantel Lotts, had spent part of the morning playing with Pokémon cards. He was in seventh grade and not yet five feet tall.

Mr. Lotts is 25 now, and he is in the maximum-security prison here, serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for murder.

The victim’s mother, Tammy Lotts, said she lost two children on that November day in 1999. One was a son, Michael Barton, who was 17 when he died. The other was a stepson, Mr. Lotts.

“I don’t feel he’s guilty,” she said of Mr. Lotts in the living room of her modest St. Louis apartment, growing emotional. “But if he was, he’s already done his time. He should be released. Time served. If they think that’s too easy, let somebody look over his case.”

As things stand now, though, the law gives Mr. Lotts no hope of ever getting out.

Almost a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment — but only for crimes that did not involve killings. The decision affected around 130 prisoners convicted of crimes like rape, armed robbery and kidnapping.

Now the inevitable follow-up cases have started to arrive at the Supreme Court. Last month, lawyers for two other prisoners who were 14 when they were involved in murders filed the first petitions urging the justices to extend last’s year’s decision, Graham v. Florida, to all 13- and 14-year-old offenders.

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