Saturday, December 3, 2016

Kenneth Young "15 to life"

Judge Daniel H. Sleet of Florida’s 2nd District Court: Shows he has no real understanding of US law or just does not care or he is a real out right racist.
The juvenile justice system in the United States was built on the idea that an individual’s ability to understand right and wrong, as well as the consequences of his or her decisions, is not completely formed until adulthood, when psychological and physiological capacities are fully developed...

Does sentencing a teenager to life without parole serve our society well? The United States is the only country in the world that routinely condemns children to die in prison. This is the story of one of those children, now a young man, seeking a second chance in Florida. At age 15, Kenneth Young received four consecutive life sentences for a series of armed robberies. Imprisoned for more than a decade, he believed he would die behind bars. Now a U.S. Supreme Court decision could set him free. 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story follows Young’s struggle for redemption, revealing a justice system with thousands of young people serving sentences intended for society’s most dangerous criminals.

       Trailer for 15 TO LIFE Kenneth's Story

           Children In Prison For Life Sentence 'Kids Behind Bars
In June 2000, 14-year-old Kenneth Young was convinced by his mother’s then-24-year-old crack dealer,he had threatened to kill her unless the boy helped rob the hotels. The dealer, Jacques Bethea, who had a long criminal history, made the threat because Young’s crack addict mother had stolen drugs from him, Young said. He had to join him on a month-long spree of four armed robberies. The older man planned the Tampa, Fla. heists and brandished the pistol—and, on one occasion, he was talked out of raping one of the victims by his young partner. Fortunately, no one was physically injured during the crimes, although the trauma that resulted was immeasurable.

When they were caught, Kenneth didn’t deny his part. It was his first serious scrape with the law. But at 15, he was tried under Florida law as an adult. Astoundingly, he received four consecutive life sentences — guaranteeing that he would die in prison. 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story follows the young African-American man’s battle for release, after more than 10 years of incarceration, much of it spent in solitary confinement. The film is also a disturbing portrait of an extraordinary fact: The United States is the only country in the world that condemns juveniles to life without parole.

Kenneth’s sentence was not a rarity. As 15 to Life shows, there are more than 2,500 juveniles serving life sentences in the United States for non-lethal crimes, as well as for murder. In the 1990s, many states reacted to a rise in violent youth crimes by amending their laws to allow more juveniles to be tried as adults. Then, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that life sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder were unconstitutional. That made 77 Florida inmates, including Kenneth, eligible for early release. But how would the Florida courts, historically in favor of juvenile life sentences, apply the Supreme Court decision to a decade-old case?

The cast of 15 to Life includes the legal advocates who have taken up Kenneth’s cause. Paolo Annino, head of Florida State University’s Children in Prison Project and a co-director of the Public Interest Law Center in Tallahassee, has long argued that life sentences for juveniles violate the Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” His research was cited in Graham v. Florida, which opened the door for resentencing Kenneth and thousands of others.

Corinne Koeppen, a new lawyer and trainee at the Public Interest Law Center, joins Paolo Annino. They argue for Kenneth’s immediate release, contending he has shown the rehabilitation and maturity that the Supreme Court decision requires. They also set out to prove that Kenneth played much less of a role in the crimes than his adult co-defendant.

Public-interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., provides perspective on the decade-long fight to win fair sentencing for children. “The United States permitted the death penalty for juveniles until 2005,” he says. “When we finally persuaded the Supreme Court to ban the death penalty for children, I was clear that that … life imprisonment without parole would still not be a just outcome for many of these kids.”

The other key character in Kenneth’s story is his guilt-ridden mother, Stephanie, who struggles to convince the court that her son deserves the help she never gave him. Although she is clean and sober now, she was a crack addict for 19 years and largely absent as a mother after Kenneth’s father died. “I know the judge has a heart,” she says. “I’ve prayed and I asked for forgiveness on behalf of me and my son.”

At the core of the story, of course, stands Kenneth, now 26, who is candid about his crimes. He says he has followed a path of self-improvement and is remorseful for what he did, even as he remains flabbergasted about his punishment. (Oddly enough, in a separate trial, Jacques Bethea, the older man who organized the robberies and who carried the gun, received a single life sentence.)

At his hearing for a reduced sentence, Kenneth tells the court, “I have lived with regret every day … I have been incarcerated for 11 years and I have taken advantage of every opportunity available for me in prison to better myself … I am no longer the same person I used to be. First Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verse 11 says: ‘When I was a child I thought as a child. When I became a man I put away all childish things.’ I want to turn around and apologize to my victim for what I did.”

Kenneth’s plight elicits mixed reactions. While some of his victims are inclined to see him let go, others, along with the prosecutor, defend the original punishment. Kenneth’s contention that the older man coerced his cooperation by threatening his mother is dismissed, because he didn’t speak up as a 15-year-old at his original trial. And arguments that Kenneth’s new sentence should take into account his rehabilitation may not convince this Florida court.

15 to Life is an eye-opening portrait of the American justice system as it stands today, putting an indelibly human face on its policies concerning children.

“Few of us would question whether our 13- or 14-year-old needs guidance,” says director Nadine Pequeneza. “As parents we recognize that our children are easily influenced, that they can be impulsive and that empathy and cruelty are both learned behaviors. Given what we know, I was shocked to learn that kids as young as 12 years old are being sentenced to die in prison.

“As I began to research, reading articles, reports and studies from individuals and groups on both sides of this argument, I discovered some shocking statistics: 60 percent of children sentenced to life without parole are first time offenders and every 13 and 14-year-old sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide crime is a child of color.

“When children commit crimes, should rehabilitation take precedence over punishment? Can children be ruled to be adults, based on a single action? Can children who commit violent acts be rehabilitated? By focusing on Kenneth’s story, we find the answers.”

Judge Daniel H. Sleet of Florida’s 2nd District Court: Shows he has no real understanding of US law or just does not care or he is a real out right racist.
The juvenile justice system in the United States was built on the idea that an individual’s ability to understand right and wrong, as well as the consequences of his or her decisions, is not completely formed until adulthood, when psychological and physiological capacities are fully developed.

The Graham and the Miller decisions by the US Supreme Court really make the same point — that is, that children are different than adults physically, mentally and emotionally and that has to be taken into account when you’re sentencing them. There’s so many things that we restrict children from doing because we recognize that they don’t have the same maturity as adults and the same capacity for decision-making and understanding of the consequences of their actions. So they can’t drive until a certain age, they can’t drink, they can’t vote. But for some reason, when they commit a crime that we feel is serious enough to move them into an adult court, there’s no protection for children anymore, and so that disconnect is something that I think needs to be addressed.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Darryl Hunt - A Innocent Man

"We Live" | A Tribute to Darryl Hunt by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II

Darryl Hunt 1965 – March 13, 2016 was an African American man from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who, in 1984, was twice wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a young white newspaper copy editor, Deborah Sykes, but was later exonerated by DNA and other forms of evidence. He served 19-and-one-half years in prison before he was freed after review and exoneration.

After 19 years in prison, Hunt was exonerated in February 2004 after DNA evidence led police to Willard Brown, who confessed to the killing. After he was exonerated, Hunt was pardoned by then-Gov. Mike Easley. He was awarded a settlement of more than $1.6 million in 2007 and founded the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice, an advocacy group for the wrongfully convicted.

But Hunt was also haunted by his experiences, said those who knew him. He would use ATMs daily, not so much to get money but so he could create a time-stamped receipt and an image recording his location.

“Even after all this time – he still carries this kind of fear and anxiety,” said Phoebe Zerwick, who in 2003 as a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, wrote an eight-part series on Hunt’s case.

Zerwick now teaches at Wake Forest University and regularly asked Hunt to speak to classes. His last spoke to a group of her students in late January.

“Anybody I’ve ever met who has met him has been deeply touched by him,” she said. “He’s really moving to college students.”

Mark Rabil is an attorney who represented Hunt from his first trial through to his civil settlement with Winston-Salem more than two decades later.

Rabil said he knew Hunt was innocent the first time they talked. “He was very open and trusting,” Rabil said. “There didn’t seem to be any question about it.”

Rabil and Hunt recently traveled together to the University of Virginia for a program at its public policy school.

Hunt often talked about the problems of people released from prison, Rabil said. Hunt called it “homecoming.”

The trauma of wrongful convictions, years in prison, and the responsibilities he took on after he was free wore Hunt down, Rabil said.

“In the long run, he eventually got the death penalty,” Rabil said.

A modern cause célèbre, his case was said to have "helped define race relations in Winston-Salem for 20 years."
Darryl Hunt became a Muslim and involved in the Innocence Project, as well as his own group called The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice. This project is devoted to "educating the public about flaws in the criminal justice system, advocating for those wrongfully incarcerated as a result of those flaws, and providing resources and support for those trying to rebuild their lives."

Darryl Hunt died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his torso in Winston-Salem, NC, after a battle with Stage IV cancer.

    Darryl Hunt Interview @ Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, NC

    Darryl Hunt (1965-2016) Last Public Speech at Kalvin Michael Smith Rally