Arkansas House Keeps Juvenile Life Sentences Without Parole

Mar 26, 2015

Minors in the state can still face a life sentence without parole after a bill that sought to eliminate the option failed to pass the Arkansas House Thursday. Rep Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) sponsored the bill. He explained that the Supreme Court recently overturned juvenile life without parole laws in the case of Miller vs. Alabama.

“Our state is currently out of compliance and therefore our laws are unconstitutional. So we must act,” he said.

Leding connected the law to the case of Kuntrell Jackson, an Arkansas teenager who accompanied his cousin on a trip to rob a convenience store. Jackson waited outside in a car while his cousin shot and killed the convenience store clerk. Jackson, who was 14 at the time of the crime, was charged and convicted of murder.

Leding said “conservative states have actually been leading the way on this issue; states like Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Texas, Wyoming and West Virginia.”

The bill would not have been retroactive. Leding also noted that Arkansas imprisons more people who were convicted to life without parole as minors than all but five other states. Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke) also spoke for the bill, saying “there is a possibility that people can be redeemed no matter the bad things that they’ve done in their life.”

Speaking against the bill, Rep. Rebecca Petty (R-Rogers) said the legislation doesn’t consider the plight of crime victims.

"If you’re heinous enough to commit capital murder, no matter what age you are, you should never have even a remote chance of being released,” she said.

Petty made reference to her 12-year old daughter, who was “raped and strangled 15 years ago.” Petty said if she knew the killer were to be released 15 years from now, she would be “devastated.”

Also speaking against the bill were Rep. Michelle Gray (R-Melbourne), Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) and Rep. Dave Wallace (R-Leachville), who objected to referring to the convicts affected by the bill as “children.” He suggested “another term…criminal, killer.”

The bill failed on a 29 to 53 vote.