Juvenile Crime — When should age make a difference in sentencing?


Question:  At what point can someone hide behind the implicit innocence of being a child?  I ask this as I ponder many situations when we use the term “child” to point finger of blame, or to turn the finger of blame away from someone that has committed a societal wrong, a heinous crime.  Do we go too far in the categorizing of age and the predominance in identifying age as the acquitter or wrong, or a definer of wrong?

I will begin by focusing on an incomprehensible crime against a young boy that brought joy to my neighborhood.  My children were his playmate, and the friend of his siblings.  I was schoolmates with his mother.  Ultimately I would become deeper friends with her and her partner.  My daughters, well unfortunately and honorably they would be his pallbearers.  The young boy was Christopher Meyers, his murderer, Timothy Buss. 

I was told months prior to Christopher moving into our small neighborhood that Timothy Buss was released from prison after serving only 12 years of a 25 year sentence for the brutal murder of Tara Sue Huffman.  I was told by Tara Sue’s brother that he was out and that some of his family still lived in the neighborhood that I lived in.  A quiet small safe neighborhood only 60 miles south of Chicago along the beautiful Kankakee River might no longer be a safe haven.  I remember all too well Tara Sue’s brother warning me to keep an eye on my kids, not to let them roam freely in a neighborhood where a monster might return.  I told my neighbors about it, they told me I was paranoid…

When we discovered Christopher missing, my heart ached, I was sickened.  I told my family that the authorities needed to look for Buss, to find Buss.  I told the Sheriff the same thing as we were all looking and praying for evidence that Christopher was okay, that he was just displaced. Christopher was found on the 15th of August, brutally murdered miles from his “safe haven.”

Timothy Buss was 27 when he returned to his old neighborhood to once again perform unconscionable acts against an innocent little boy.  Christopher was raped, sexually mutilated and stabbed over 50 times and then buried in a shallow grave. Buss murdered Tara Sue Huffman when he was 13 years old and she was only 5.  He raped, sodomized and bludgeoned her to death then stuffed her into a barrel in a landfill. He only served 12 of the 25 years he was sentenced.  He was viewed as a child? I say he is a monster.

Now he is serving out his sentence, he did receive the death penalty, and additional counts added on. This time the court made sure he will not ever be released.

Now before us is another case a heinous crime against not one, but three, a husband, wife and an unborn child.  All murdered in the safety of their own home.  The crime against this family, the devastation of the woman’s sisters, parents, nieces, nephews, friends for generations to come is real, it is as alive as it was the day they received the unfortunate news. The man’s family and friends for generations to come is alive and haunting them as they are all facing the reality ~ the murderer is about to be released.

Nancy Bishop-Langert and her husband Richard Langert along with their unborn child were shot to death by a 16 year old neighbor boy.  Originally sentenced to life without parole this is now being overturned and the family is facing the release of this man, who is being released because he was a “child” at the time of the murders. The details of the crime are relevant in that it was cold-blooded and calculated.

So the question remains, at what point does age matter?  Are we delusional in our society to determine how we treat mentally ill adolescence?  On one hand we say that a child past the age of 12 is unable to receive child services in the same manner as when they were dependent children.  Then we say it is acceptable and fair that a young woman 16 year old has the right to seek an abortion.  Depending on the issue, we determine what age is appropriate.  Should age be the determining factor in the punishment assigned to a heinous criminal, a monster? Yes, they are human, but clearly we are surrounded by the potential of repeat offenders.  Timothy Buss is an example, we risk every day exposing ourselves to violent offenders when they are released from a prison sentence when there was a heinous crime against humanity.   

Please visit my dear friend’s website and see the work that she is doing.  In this election year, ask yourself “are you truly protected in your safe zone?”  Be informed!

http://www.illinoisvictims.org/   go to the juvenile LWOP and read more about it.



1 Comment

  1. lisakenney said,

    February 22, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    These are truly tragic stories and I cannot express the sadness I feel for these victims and families. I think your question about age has a two part answer. Yes, I think the age of a criminal should always be a consideration when our society considers how to punish and treat. Regardless of what the crime is, it is simply true that human beings don’t physiologically develop the capability to fully think through the consequences of their actions or to exercise mature decision making under certain circumstances. I think we have to absolutely consider each case individually to assess whether or not the juvenile is seriously disturbed and probably will always pose a threat to society (as in the first case you described), or if a teenager who may not have been brought up under the best circumstances has made a terrible decision or error in judgment based on peer pressure (there are many juveniles who were convicted of felony murder and are serving LWOP because they may have been in a car at the time one of the others in the car shot out out the window and killed someone, for example). There are still other tragic cases of juveniles who have killed parents who’d imposed a lifetime of violent and sexual abuse on them. Should all of these juveniles be punished? Of course they should. Should they be considered worthy of rehabilitation and redemption? I think many of them should and some of them are not capable of it. The problem is that juveniles convicted of violent crimes are sent to adult prisons. Those who are first time violent offenders, who did not commit premeditated heinous crimes are then prey to violent adult criminals. They are forced to adapt to prisoner mentality and either become more violent inside to defend themselves, or they will be prey to violent and sexual predators. I don’t believe juveniles should be incarcerated in adult prisons and I don’t believe they should receive life sentences without the possibility of parole — which is not to say that some shouldn’t be imprisoned for life, but taking the possibility away from those who are absolutely capable of remorse and rehabilitation seems inhumane to me. We are the only country in the world that locks juveniles up in prison to die — we currently have over 2,380 while the rest of the world has 12. The cases you have cited are truly tragic and reflect those who should never have been released. Sadly, there are many, many more men and women who made bad decisions and who would truly not pose a threat to us if they were given another chance. None of us are who we were at 15 or 16 years old. For those serving LWOP, we’ll never have the chance to find out what they could have become if we don’t rethink how we view our juvenile offenders.

    Thank you for this very thoughtful post.

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