Supreme Court to Rule on Death Penalty for Minors : Will Hear Appeal of Convict, 17

From Times Wire Services

The Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether states may execute convicted murderers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes.

The justices said they will hear the appeal of an Oklahoma Death Row inmate, William Wayne Thompson, convicted of a 1983 murder committed when he was 15.

The court said it will study arguments that sentencing Thompson to death is unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment” because of his youth at the time of his crime.

Thompson was one of four people convicted in the Jan. 23, 1983, death in Grady County, Okla., of Charles Keene, his former brother-in-law.


All four were sentenced to death, but Thompson was the only juvenile.

Body Thrown Into River

Police said Keene was beaten, shot and stabbed. His body was tied to a concrete block and thrown into the Washita River.

The Supreme Court once before attempted to decide in an Oklahoma death penalty case whether capital punishment is constitutional for those who commit their crimes as minors.


That case ended in the court’s deciding it on other constitutional grounds.

The justices last year refused to halt the execution in South Carolina of James Terry Roach for a murder committed in 1977, when Roach was 17.

To date, he is the only one of the 69 U.S. prison inmates executed since 1977 who was under 18 when his crime was committed.

Twenty-seven of 37 states with the death penalty allow executions of people under 18, legal authorities said. Indiana specifically permits execution of children as young as 10 and about a dozen other states have no age limit but consider it a factor in sentencing.


During the last five years, six states have adopted a minimum age of 18 for executions.

Other Court Actions

In other action today the court:

--Agreed to judge the validity of a state law banning the commercial display of some sexually explicit materials in locations where children might get at them. The justices said they will study a Virginia law that makes it a crime to knowingly display such materials offered for sale in a way anyone under 18 “may examine and peruse” them.


--In a California case, agreed to study the power of public school officials to expel or suspend emotionally handicapped children for disruptive behavior. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that under a 1982 federal law handicapped students may not be expelled for conduct caused by their emotional disorders.

--Refused to reinstate a $1.6-million libel award won, and then lost, by Penthouse magazine publisher Robert Guccione against rival Hustler magazine. The justices, without comment, let stand a ruling that Guccione is “libel-proof"--his reputation cannot be worsened--on the subject of adultery.

--Refused to hear an appeal from Texas by seven people ordered imprisoned for 30 days for refusing to stand when a judge entered his courtroom.

--Refused, in an appeal from Minnesota, to reconsider its past rulings that let states require some girls who seek abortions to get permission from their parents or a judge.