Bill killed to stop execution of 16, 17 years olds in Oklahoma - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Bill killed to stop execution of 16, 17 years olds in Oklahoma


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Legislation that would bar the execution of anyone under 18, including an Oklahoma death-row inmate who was 17 at the time of the offense, was killed by a legislative committee Monday.

The measure by Rep. Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, would make Oklahoma the 29th state to prohibit the execution of inmates who were younger than 18 at the time of the offense. Defendants younger than 18 could still be sentenced to life in prison.

Currently, Oklahoma is one of just 17 states that permit the execution of inmates who were 16 or 17 when they committed murder, the only crime punishable by death. The U.S. Supreme Court has barred states from executing anyone 15 and younger.

The measure was supported by a coalition of religious and other groups.

``The juvenile mind does not work like an adult mind,'' said attorney Steve Presson of Norman, who represents death-row inmates.

``Kids that age are laboring under some real handicaps, mentally and emotionally,'' said Pam Maisano, a high school teacher in Oklahoma City for 33 years.

``They are all superheros. They are never going to die,'' Maisano said.

Attorney Rex Friend, representing the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, said the organization opposes capital punishment and has urged that no one under 18 be subjected to it.

Friend said a Gallup poll last year found that 69 percent of those questioned opposed the execution of anyone under 18.

If the measure became law, it would stop the scheduled execution of the only Oklahoma death-row inmate who was younger than 18 when the offense occurred, Scott Allen Hain.

Hain, 32, is scheduled to die on April 3 for the Oct. 6, 1987, murders of Michael William Houghton, 27, and Laura Lee Sanders, 22.

Hain was 17 when he and an older friend kidnaped the couple from a Tulsa nightspot and robbed Houghton before placing them in the trunk of Sanders' car. They drove the car to a rural area and burned it with Houghton and Sanders still in the trunk.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month rejected a request by Presson, Hain's attorney, to set the minimum age for imposing the death penalty at 18 at the time of the offense.

Toure's bill died when a motion to pass it failed to get a second in the Public Safety and Judiciary Subcommittee of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

Several committee members, including Rep. Mike Wilt, R-Bartlesville, expressed doubt about the measure. Wilt said it would eliminate the death penalty as an option in heinous cases.

Supporters expressed disappointment.

``I'm speechless. It's absolutely irresponsible,'' Presson said. ``Let's put our signs up: 'Welcome to Oklahoma. Set your watches back 40 years.'''

Toure said committee members were reluctant to support the measure out of concern they would appear soft on crime.

``The issue is not over yet. This will give us an opportunity to rally support,'' Toure said.

The measure is House Bill 1405.
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