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Napoleon Beazley spotted a car he liked, followed it and shot the owner as he pulled into his garage. The victim’s wife watched the whole thing. Beazley was only 17, in most legal respects just a child. But Texas, like many other states, allows minors to be prosecuted as adults for certain crimes and is among 23 states that allows imposition of the death penalty on 17-year-olds if they are convicted of capital offenses. In some of the 23, defendants as young as 16 at the time of a crime can be sentenced to death. Fifteen of the 38 states with the death penalty do not allow it for people under 18. Neither does the U.S. government for those prosecuted under federal laws. Although he admits his guilt, some lawyers and children’s rights advocates gathered as part of the American Bar Association’s annual meeting maintain Beazley’s scheduled execution this month will be the killing of an innocent. Teen-agers, while capable of understanding right and wrong, are too immature and too suggestible to face the ultimate penalty of execution, said Carl Bell, a psychiatrist at the University of Illinois. “Children are children. They don’t understand this stuff at all,” Bell said Sunday. The American Bar Association, the most influential group representing U.S. lawyers, has no position on the death penalty in general but opposes it for anyone under 18. An ABA panel designed to help lawyers fight such cases did not include any defenders of the practice. The ABA has also written to Texas Gov. Rick Perry asking for clemency in Beazley’s case. The United States is nearly alone in the world in allowing the execution of those too young to smoke, drink, vote or join the Army, said Anne James, director of an international human rights law project at American University’s law school. “You can’t have a Budweiser in this country until you’re 21 but we can kill you at 16? It doesn’t make any sense.” In Beazley’s case, he was also an excellent candidate for rehabilitation, said Steven Drizin, supervisor of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University. “The best predictor of future dangerousness is past violent behavior. Napoleon had none,” Drizin said. Beazley, who turned 25 on Sunday, was sentenced to death for the 1994 killing of John Luttig in Tyler, Texas. Two co-defendants told a jury Beazley pulled the trigger, his palm print was found on Luttig’s wrecked Mercedes and his bloody footprint was found in Luttig’s driveway. The crime has become infamous in conservative legal circles, because John Luttig was the father of J. Michael Luttig, a federal appeals court judge and considered one of the nation’s premier conservative legal theorists. In an interview last month Beazley said he is resigned to death. When asked directly if he is innocent, Beazley replied: “No.” The prosecutor in the case maintains that death is the correct punishment for Beazley, and so far no court has agreed to a delay or reduction in the sentence. Beazley has appealed to the Supreme Court to postpone his scheduled Aug. 15 execution. Justice Antonin Scalia recused himself from Beazley’s case. Although Scalia did not explain his reasons, Scalia has known the family since the younger Luttig was a law clerk for Scalia. The two are both ideological soul mates and close friends. Death penalty critics have also seized on Beazley’s case as the focus of a renewed criticism of the execution of teen-agers. Amnesty International highlighted the case in a recent report, and called the United States “a rogue state as far as capital punishment is concerned.” Norway has asked the Texas governor to spare Beazley’s life, and the Council of Europe called for a delay in the execution. The United States may eventually bow to international pressure, or individual states may question the practice and begin repealing teen-age death penalty laws, lawyers at the ABA conference said. “It may come too late for Napoleon, but we see light at the end of the tunnel,” Drizin said. The Death Penalty Information Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund say 81 people on death row were sentenced as teen-agers. All were 16 or 17 at the time of the crime, and most are now in their 20s. Nationally, 18 convicted killers have been executed for crimes committed when they were younger than 18 since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. All were over 18 by the time the executions were carried out. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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