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DALLAS — At age 17, Anzel Keon Jones, a high school sophomore, played football, ran track, partied on weekends — and murdered a woman and sexually assaulted her mother. Jones, whose nickname among his fellow death row inmates is Youngster, doesn’t deny his actions. “I did it,” he says. Now, nine years later, Jones and his lawyer hope the U.S. Supreme Court will decide in Donald P. Roper, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Centers v. Christopher Simmons — a Missouri case — that executing those who committed crimes while under the age of 18 is unconstitutional. But J. Kerye Ashmore, an assistant district attorney in Grayson County, Texas, who prosecuted Jones, unequivocally doesn’t want the Texas death row inmate’s sentence changed to life in prison. “I don’t think the jury had much problem with their decision, and they knew his age,” says Ashmore about Jones. On Feb. 25, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stayed Jones’ execution — which had been slated for April 29 — pending the outcome of Simmons. In Stanford v. Kentucky (1989), the high court set 16 as the minimum age for imposing the death penalty. But on Jan. 26, it granted certiorari in Simmons, and may once again consider at what age a criminal can be sentenced to death. Christopher Simmons’ lawyers at the Missouri Supreme Court, and Jones’ lawyer Richard Burr, in his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, have argued that the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment forbids as cruel and unusual punishment executing individuals who were under 18 at the time they committed the crimes for which they are sentenced to die. Jones isn’t alone in getting a stay. He is one of 27 Texas death row inmates who were under 18 at the time they committed crimes. At the beginning of February, five of Texas’ death row inmates had execution dates. But by the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court had granted stays in Jones’ and another inmate’s cases, pending the outcome of Simmons. Harris County Assistant District Attorney Jane Scott says her office has filed motions to withdraw pending execution dates in two of the other cases in which Texas death row inmates were convicted of crimes committed under the age of 18. Scott says, “It became obvious that we would be pursuing execution dates that would be stayed because of Simmons.” The fifth Texas death row inmate who was under 18 at the time of his crime has a June 29 execution date. Mauro Morris Barraza’s lawyer — Scott Schutte, a partner in Chicago’s Jenner & Block who is working on the case pro bono — says he will file a motion in Texas’ Tarrant County District Court within the next month seeking a stay of his client’s execution pending the outcome of Simmons. Eventually, Burr says he expects all 27 Texas death row inmates who were under 18 at the time of their crimes to seek stays. “The stays were granted by Justice Scalia … so it reflects a policy decision on the part of the court,” says Burr, a partner in Houston’s Burr & Welch. While Simmons is pending, “no juvenile case is going through [nationwide],” he says. Burr and five other defense lawyers who represent death row inmates argue that since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Stanford in 1989, attitudes have evolved in the United States, making the death penalty for individuals who committed crimes under age 18 cruel and unusual. Specifically, they note that 31 states — most recently South Dakota and Wyoming — have enacted legislation barring the execution of inmates who were under age 18 when they committed their crimes. They believe that juries in states such as Texas, where 17-year-olds are eligible for capital punishment, have begun to shy away from such sentences. Burr wrote in Jones’ petition for writ of certiorari filed with the Supreme Court that in 2003, of the seven cases nationwide tried in which the death penalty was a possible sentence for a defendant 17 or younger, juries returned only one death sentence. Six states, Burr wrote, have executed inmates who committed their crimes under the age of 18 since 1989. Since 1998, Texas has executed eight inmates, the most nationwide, who committed their crimes under the age of 18. Veteran death row defense lawyers such as Burr are optimistic that Simmons will stop the executions of inmates who committed their crimes at age 16 or 17. Their optimism is pinned largely on Atkins v. Virginia, a 2002 opinion in which the U.S. Supreme Court said executing mentally retarded criminals violated the Eighth Amendment. In Atkins, the court wrote that the “large number of States prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded persons [showed] that today our society views mentally retarded offenders as categorically less culpable than the average criminal.” In Jones’ cert petition, Burr, citing the medical opinion of neuropsychologist and University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Ruben Gur, wrote that individuals under the age of 18 are not as culpable as those who commit crimes when they’re older. In a declaration Burr included with Jones’ writ, Gur stated that medical evidence shows that 16- and 17-year-olds don’t have the same ability to control impulse behavior as adults. Gur attributed the lapses in part to the uncompleted processes of fat tissue growing around brain paths used for information exchange. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Mental Health have conducted long-term measuring studies of the brain and showed that frontal lobes undergo significant changes between ages 12 to 22. Gur wrote, “My opinion is that the human brain is not fully mature before reaching adulthood, and that furthermore the brain regions that are most important for regulating impulse control, planning, consideration of consequences, abstract reasoning and, most probably, moral judgment are the very regions that mature last.” MITIGATING FACTOR? Not surprisingly, many Texas prosecutors and judges sharply disagree with the conclusions of some death row inmates’ lawyers. Some do not want to await the outcome of Simmons before going forward with the executions of Texas inmates who committed their crimes under age 18. Chuck Mallin, an assistant district attorney in Tarrant County in the appellate division, rejects the constitutional arguments made by defense lawyers for death row inmates who committed their crimes under the age of 18. For starters, he doesn’t believe that state legislative action accurately indicates the country’s attitudes. “I don’t buy that legislatures reflect the views of their constituents. I don’t think it’s a true reading.” He doesn’t think it’s appropriate to draw comparisons between the disabilities of a mentally retarded person and any found in a 17-year-old. “It’s a harder distinction to make,” Mallin says about 17-year-old brain development versus that of adults. “At 17, you can comprehend what you are doing.” He also notes that Texas juries have the option to consider age as a mitigating factor in each capital case put before them. Victor Streib, a professor at Claude W. Pettit College of Law at Ohio Northern University who has written extensively about death row inmates who committed their crimes under the age of 18, says the Supreme Court could take several tacks in Simmons. The justices could rule strictly on the issue of whether the Missouri Supreme Court had the authority to disregard Stanford when it decided that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to execute Simmons since he was under 18 when he committed his crime. If the Supreme Court rules only on that issue, Streib says, it doesn’t have to address the constitutionality of executing 16- and 17-year-olds. But Streib says if the high court does rule in favor of Simmons, who was convicted of murdering a 46-year-old woman after an invasion of her home, its ruling will unquestionably impact all states that now allow executions of inmates who committed their crimes under age 18. Why? Because Simmons asks directly whether it is constitutional to execute 16- and 17-year-olds. So if the court rules in Simmons’ favor, states that define 16- and 17-year-olds as adults would be violating the Constitution if they executed them, Streib says. David Dow, a criminal law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, says: “There is a very plausible reason to think the court is going to do in the juvenile area exactly what it did with mental retardation.” Ashmore, who prosecuted Jones in 1995 in Lamar County, Texas, agrees that the Supreme Court ruling in Simmons could alter how the death penalty is assessed in Texas. But Ashmore isn’t willing to speculate further. “I’m not good enough to evaluate and analyze an opinion before it’s issued,” says Ashmore, now an assistant district attorney in Grayson County, Texas. There is no question, however, about what Ashmore believes should happen in Jones’ case. “This is what I can tell you about Anzel Keon Jones. He went into a back yard, took a nearly 50-year-old woman and beat her with a gun, cut her throat in front of her mother, then sexually assaulted her mother in every way imaginable, including perforating her organ with an antenna, cut her throat, attempted to burn the house down and fled. He doesn’t deserve to be in society ever again. He needs to be executed. Twelve people heard the evidence, including his age, and didn’t feel that it mitigated his crime,” Ashmore says. The surviving victim of Jones’ crimes, Edith Jones (no relation), died several years ago, the prosecutor says. Her son has asked not to be contacted by reporters, Ashmore says. Defense lawyer Burr says that emotionally Anzel Jones is not the same individual convicted of capital murder. “He is very different from the impudent, arrogant, 17-year-old tried for capital murder. Trial lawyers had a difficult time with him because he acted out, but he is a delightful adult now,” Burr says. NO EXPLANATION In an interview at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison in Livingston, Jones appears startlingly good-natured, congenial and articulate. “I’m sort of a people person,” he says. At the time of his arrest, Jones not only played receiver and running back on the North Lamar High School football team, but also competed in hurdles, sprint relays and the high jump for the track team. His grades at the Paris, Texas, high school were mediocre. “I was an A, B, C, D student,” Jones says. Jones lived in a middle-income neighborhood with his mother and sister. About his father, Jones says, “Me and him, we don’t associate no more.” Jones’ grandmother, 65-year-old Betty Jones, says she never knew the boy’s father. Betty Jones and Garland Cardwell, a partner in Sherman’s Munson, Munson, Cardwell & Keese who was Anzel Jones’ defense lawyer at trial, say Jones never had been in serious trouble before the early morning hours of May 2, 1995, when he went to the home of Sherry Kay Jones and her mother, Edith, two women who lived across the street and whom the high school student knew only casually. About a year earlier, Jones had appeared before a judge in juvenile court for stealing cigarettes with a friend, Cardwell says. “We stuffed them down our pants and got caught,” Jones says. But he performed the community service the juvenile court judge required. “The only thing then was going to school, acting up on weekends, drinking, riding around and playing football. That was my mentality,” Jones says. On Burr’s advice, Jones declines to answer questions involving details of his crimes. Asked for an explanation of why he committed such heinous acts, Jones provides no clues. “I sit back nights, actually years, and I just can’t think of anything,” Jones says. At the crime scene, Ashmore and Cardwell say, police found cult-related signs scrawled in the dirt in the backyard. Cardwell says he always suspected that other teenagers had put Jones up to the murders as part of some cult initiation rite, but Cardwell never developed that evidence. Jones insists he acted alone, Cardwell says. Police arrested Jones at school a few days after he committed the crimes. Cardwell and Ashmore say Jones’ fingerprints were found on a bottle of nail polish remover that had been thrown under a chair in the women’s home. Its contents had been poured around the perimeter of the house as fuel to burn it. Jones says his arrest and the threat of prison didn’t worry him at the time. “I didn’t even take it seriously. I didn’t take nothing seriously back then,” he says. “Back then I was sort of like, �Fuck the world.’” Jones pleaded not guilty. Cardwell says his client could be charming at one moment and unruly the next. Jones acted up in the jail and before the judge, Cardwell says. In court, Cardwell remembers, Jones made gang-sign gestures to friends in the courtroom and drew pictures of the judge in Ku Klux Klan costumes. “Every time I turned around, he was doing something I told him not to,” Cardwell says. Betty Jones also believes her grandson didn’t help his case. “He just sat there,” she says. At trial, Cardwell called only the grandmother to the stand. He did not call Jones’ mother, sister or the defendant himself. “I didn’t think he’d hold up under the prosecutors,” Cardwell says. “He never really showed any remorse.” The evidence presented at trial and the testimony of Edith Jones was paralyzingly graphic, Cardwell says. After the prosecutor displayed pictures of the crime scene, Cardwell remembers, one juror became physically ill and had to be replaced. The true weight of his sentence, Anzel Jones says, didn’t dawn on him until he was 19, two years after he arrived on death row. He recalls he was assigned to cleaning duty and was scrubbing in an area occupied by an inmate whose execution was scheduled for the next day. Jones knew the inmate as Poppa. “He was the first cat I knew that got executed,” Jones says. “I got a chance to talk to him about being on death row. He just got a letter from his daughter, but the mailroom had held it until the day before his execution. He never did open it. That’s when I understood what I’m facing now.” As soon as judges set an execution date for a death row inmate, TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says, prison officials segregate those individuals in a separate unit. Jones has resided on that unit, known as the Deathwatch Pod, twice because he had an execution date scheduled and then stayed in 2000 and then more recently last month. Obviously, Jones hopes Simmons prevails at the U.S. Supreme Court. “It’s a relief, right,” Jones says. “It prolongs my death. Everybody’s got to die someday, right. But I’d like to be able to die of natural causes, possibly 50 years from now, than have to go down on that gurney and strap down and stick a needle in my arm, right. “If I get a chance to grow, I might be able to right some of the wrongs I’ve done. You never know. I might be able to get a chance to talk to Edith to tell her I’m sorry and apologize to her. It’s just the aspect of living a little bit longer, possibly in regular population. I might be able to move around a little more rather than sitting in my cell all day.” The inmate does not know that Edith Jones is dead. But for prosecutor Ashmore, given what Jones did, the Texas death row inmate’s wishes don’t count for much. “He’s mean and enjoys making other people suffer and die in misery like every other sociopath on death row.” Miriam Rozen is a reporter with Texas Lawyer , a Recorder affiliate based in Dallas.

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