In the United States, there are roughly 1,200 individuals serving life sentences for crimes they committed as children.
For years, the Supreme Court debated the issue: Is it okay to put kids behind bars for life? In 2010, it was ruled unconstitutional to give kids life sentences unless the crime was murder. However, they did not demand immediate release for those already behind bars for non-homicidal crimes.
Some of the people on this list are heinous murderers. Another made a stupid decision that’s affected his entire life. About 80 percent of criminal kids grow up in violent households and many are sexually abused. Do you think these five should be serving life sentences? Before you decide, take a look at their stories.
1. Lionel Tate
Lionel Tate was one of the youngest people in American history to have ever received a life sentence. He was only 13 years old.
His crime, however, was horrific. In 2001, Tate claimed he had been “practicing wrestling moves” with his six-year-old neighbor, but her injuries told a different story. She’d been stomped on and beaten forcefully and died of multiple lacerations and fractured bones.
2. Brian Lee Draper
Inspired by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, Brian Lee Draper set out to kill a classmate in 2006.
Draper and his accomplice, Torey Adamcik, carefully planned the murder of classmate Cassie Jo Stoddart when they were just 16 years old. The pair hid in her house, cut the power, and stabbed her 29 times. Both blame each other for the crime, and both are serving life sentences.
3. Joshua Phillips
When Joshua Phillips was 14 years old, he strangled and stabbed his eight-year-old neighbor, then hid her body under his waterbed.
Eight days later, his mother was cleaning his room when she noticed a foul smell. There in her son’s room was the neighbor child that everyone had been searching for. Phillips claimed that he committed the crime after accidentally hitting the girl with a baseball. Fearing that his father would be upset, he killed her and hid her body.
4. Eric Smith
In 1993, 13-year-old Eric Smith saw a four-year-old neighbor alone in the park. He lured the boy into the woods, then dropped a rock on his head and sodomized him with a branch.
According to Smith, the crime was brought on by the rage he felt toward classmates. He was often bullied for his red hair and thick glasses, and decided to take out his anger on the small child. Smith is now 36 years old and has been denied parole eight times.
5. Kenneth Young
Kenneth Young is a very special case. Unlike the others on this list, he did not commit murder, but he is serving a life sentence.
Young was 15 years old when his mother’s drug dealer threatened him. Unless he helped with an armed robbery, the man would harm his family. Young complied, but stopped the dealer from raping a young woman. Despite the unusual circumstances, he was sentenced to not one, but four life sentences.
To learn more about the bizarre case of Kenneth Young, check out this video. Even a judge agrees that he’s been “rehabilitated,” but refuses to release him from prison.