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Roper v. Simmons

Supreme Court of the United States

October 13, 2004, Argued ; March 1, 2005, Decided

No. 03-633

Opinion

 [*555]  [**1187]   Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to address, for the second time in a decade and a half, whether it is permissible under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States to execute a juvenile offender who was older  [*556]  than 15 but younger than 18 when he committed a capital crime. In  Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361, 106 L. Ed. 2d 306, 109 S. Ct. 2969 (1989), a divided Court rejected the proposition that the Constitution bars capital punishment for juvenile offenders in this age group. We reconsider the question.

At the age of 17, when he was still a junior in high school, Christopher Simmons, the respondent here, committed murder. About nine months later, after he had turned 18, he was tried and sentenced to death. There is little doubt that Simmons was the instigator of the crime. Before its commission Simmons said he wanted to murder someone. In chilling, callous terms he talked about his plan, discussing it for the most part with two friends, Charles Benjamin and John Tessmer, then aged 15 and 16 respectively. Simmons proposed to commit burglary and murder by breaking and entering, tying up a victim, and throwing the victim off a [****12]  bridge. Simmons assured his friends they could "get away with it" because they were minors.

The three met at about 2 a.m. on the night of the murder, but Tessmer left before the other two set out. (The State later charged Tessmer with conspiracy, but dropped the charge in exchange for his testimony against Simmons.) Simmons and Benjamin entered the home of the victim, Shirley Crook, after reaching through an open window and unlocking the [**1188]  back door. Simmons turned on a hallway light. Awakened, Mrs. Crook called out, "Who's there?" In response Simmons entered Mrs. Crook's bedroom, where he recognized her from a previous car accident involving them both. Simmons later admitted this confirmed his resolve to murder her.

Using duct tape to cover her eyes and mouth and bind her hands, the two perpetrators put Mrs. Crook in her minivan and drove to a state park. They reinforced the bindings, covered her head with a towel, and walked her to a railroad  [*557]  trestle spanning the Meramec River. There they tied her hands and feet together with electrical wire, wrapped her whole face in duct tape and threw her from the bridge, drowning her in the waters below.

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543 U.S. 551 *; 125 S. Ct. 1183 **; 161 L. Ed. 2d 1 ***; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 2200 ****; 73 U.S.L.W. 4153; 18 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 131

DONALD P. ROPER, SUPERINTENDENT, POTOSI CORRECTIONAL CENTER, Petitioner v. CHRISTOPHER SIMMONS

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI.

 State ex rel. Simmons v. Roper, 112 S.W.3d 397, 2003 Mo. LEXIS 123 (Mo., 2003)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

death penalty, juveniles, offenders, capital punishment, mentally retarded, adults, murder, the Eighth Amendment, maturity, youth, plurality opinion, executions, minimum age, culpability, sentencing, cases, juvenile offender, proportionality, decisions, Rights, juries, categorical, mitigating, decency, death sentence, views, objective evidence, jurors, deterrence, plurality

Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Cruel & Unusual Punishment, State Application, Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Juvenile Offenders, Capital Punishment, Capital Punishment, General Overview, Murder, Capital Murder, Penalties, Aggravating Circumstances, Intellectual Disabilities, Mitigating Circumstances, International Law, Individuals & Sovereign States, Human Rights