At the age of 17, Donte Lamar Jones shot and killed a store clerk as she laid down on the floor during a robbery. He was spared the death penalty by agreeing instead to die in prison at the end of his life. Two years later in Virginia, 12 individuals were murdered for doing nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those individuals were killed by Lee Malvo and John Muhammad, better known as the “D.C. Snipers.” While John Muhammad was given the death penalty for his heinous crimes, Lee Malvo, who was 17 during the murder spree, was given a life sentence. What these two cases have in common is one issue: as juveniles they were both condemned to die in prison. What separates their cases is their legal challenges and how two different courts have ruled—one federal, one state. While the facts of their cases might be different, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases across the United States that reflect similar legal proceedings, and until the Supreme Court clarifies its position, more state and federal courts will reach different conclusions.
Daniel M. Coble, Discretionary Life Sentences for Juveniles: Resolving the Split Between the Virginia Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit, 75 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. Online 101 (2019), https://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/wlulr-online/vol75/iss2/2