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Christopher Lane killing

August 20, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
What leads a kid to kill "just because he's bored" and how can they be salvaged?

Last Friday, Chris Lane, a 22-year-old college student from Australia, was shot once in the back in Duncan, Okla., as he was jogging, allegedly by three boys who were bored.

Lane was white; at least two of the three boys – James Edwards, 15, and Chancey Luna, 16, who are charged as adults with first degree murder, and Michael Jones, 17, charged with use of a vehicle while a weapon was discharged and accessory after the fact of first degree murder – appear to be black. That has led to some predictable commentary, particularly in online forums, about the Trayvon Martin case and New York's unconstitutional "stop and frisk" policy. I don't know that either has any direct bearing on this case, aside from the fact that the boys, like Trayvon Martin, are black teenagers. The vast majority of young black men walking down the street are not criminals and feel justifiably angry over police who stop them simply because of how they look.

However, the case might invite some scrutiny into sentencing differences for black and white kids who commit the same crimes. Edwards' older sister told The Brisbane Times, an Australian paper, that she believes racism had something to do with the charges being harsher for the two black boys and slightly less serious for Jones, who appears to be white in photographs. Jones, the driver, apparently isn't suspected of being the trigger man and is the one who seems to be cooperating most with the police. He could get status as a "youthful offender." The boys' alleged use of a gun is also calling attention, particularly overseas, to America's "gun culture." There are some Australian papers urging Australians not to visit the United States.

The investigation is probably still in its early stages, but some things have started to come out about the background of these boys. According to the Enid News, Jones told police that "they just wanted to see some die, or kill someone." Luna's mother, Jennifer, quoted in the Enid News, sounds horrified, sorry for Lane's family and in denial that her son could do such a thing. She told the Enid News that her boy had been kicked out of school last year after falling behind, but was getting ready to start his sophomore year at the high school. She insisted that Duncan, Okla. may have its "wannabes," but she's sure the boys were not involved in gangs. The Daily Mail, however, reported that Edwards and Luna both have Facebook pages filled with pictures of them making gang signs. The Daily Mail also reports that Edwards' page also shows pictures of him holding guns. Jennifer Luna told the paper she did ask one of the boys not to come to her house anymore. Edwards has a juvenile record, but his father told the Australian papers he's never been in really serious trouble. The Herald Sun reported that Jones has a pregnant girlfriend who was in court Tuesday, crying all the way though the preliminary hearing. So, it looks like Jones might have left his own child essentially fatherless before the baby is even born.

I find myself wondering if there might have been something that could have been done earlier in these boys' lives to make them less prone to this sort of violence, less likely to idealize gangsta culture, less likely to devalue human life. At some point, someone failed all three of these kids.

And, while it might be an unpopular opinion, I don't think they are unsalvageable. Kids of this age are more impulsive, more susceptible to influence by their peers, less able to foresee the consequences of their actions. Seemingly heartless monsters of 15, 16 and 17 could be different once they have grown up. But, given the realities of today's criminal justice system, it's likely that they will spend most of their lives in prison, probably becoming more hardened and more violent after exposure to adult criminals. If they get out at all, it probably won't be until they're in their 50s.

 
 

Article Comments

(19)

JackAaah

Aug-25-13 12:26 PM

leftie-lucy....I would rather you don't bring up those banger hoodlum killings as it just does not move your and my Democrat Party forword....

MattRothchild

Aug-23-13 10:12 AM

I've known plenty of people who grew up impoverished, yet didn't resort to crime. Given that experience, I usually feel like it's irresponsible to blame criminal activity on that, especially when it's crime that has nothing to do with, say, stealing to survive. I heard about the WW2 veteran too and as of my reading of that story, it sounded again like a couple of "bored" kids up to no good.

AndreaJohnson

Aug-23-13 9:24 AM

Back to my original point, though. What could be done to help prevent kids from growing up to do this sort of thing? Is it poor parenting or poverty or just the environment kids are growing up in that contributes to all of this?

I just read of two other horrific incidents. An 88-year-old WWII veteran in Washington state was beaten to death in an Eagles Club parking lot, allegedly by two kids about ages 16 to 19. A 74-year-old man, an ordained minister, was beaten to death by unknown suspects in Boston this week too. I suppose this sort of thing has always gone on, but we hear about it instantly thanks to Google News.

AndreaJohnson

Aug-22-13 2:23 PM

I think the trend started somewhere in the 1980s. People seemed to believe that there was a rise in crime among juveniles and they were getting off too lightly. That was the Reagan era, as well. Granted, I had a different perspective when I was a kid and heard about a kid my age who had murdered his parents and sister in the state. At the time, I thought people my age were more than old enough to know better and should be punished accordingly. That's still the prevailing view, though I changed my mind as I grew older and realized just how young 16 really is. Last I heard, that guy is my age and still rotting away in prison. I wonder what he's like now.

MattRothchild

Aug-22-13 12:56 PM

Well, I still have doubts. I don't think we're going to find that any of these guys are candidates for the nuthouse where they can be rehabilitated.

On the other hand, I'd like to revisit what caused us as a society to become more oriented toward more severe punishment of minors who commit these crimes. They didn't used to be tried as adults, but now they are. What led us to this?

AndreaJohnson

Aug-22-13 10:30 AM

No, but it was one allegedly committed by juveniles. A few weeks ago I wrote about the case of the college professor who had been found innocent by reason of insanity for killing his parents and sister when he was a teenager. He was released after several years in a mental hospital and became a college professor and never committed another crime. There are other examples -- Anne Perry, the mystery writer, helped kill her best friend's mother when she was 15, served time in a New Zealand prison and was released at age 21 and given a new identity. She's also never committed another crime. They used to be more lenient with juveniles who committed murder than they are now, recognizing that juveniles are more able to be rehabilitated.

MattRothchild

Aug-22-13 10:10 AM

But this certainly wasn't a non-violent offense...

AndreaJohnson

Aug-22-13 9:04 AM

I'm squarely on the side of rehabilitation, particularly for non-violent offenses and juveniles. I think the mental health system also used to work better than it does now.

MattRothchild

Aug-22-13 8:56 AM

"Among the problems I have with the justice system is the emphasis on punishment over rehabilitation"

Come on, Andrea, you know as well as I do that this has not always been the case. In fact, it's been a cyclical debate that has raged literally for centuries with each side enjoying supremacy at different times.

AndreaJohnson

Aug-22-13 12:15 AM

The tragedy is that nothing can bring Chris Lane back. I certainly pray that he is in heaven and that his killers will be given a just punishment. But I don't think that a life sentence is necessarily a just one in the case of a 15- or 16-year-old, no matter how heinous the act.

AndreaJohnson

Aug-21-13 6:19 PM

It would depend a lot on their suitability and available resources. I assume they'd send these kids to a juvenile prison before they turn 18. I think mixing young criminals with the older, more violent general population just makes them worse. Among the problems I have with the justice system is the emphasis on punishment over rehabilitation, as well as how difficult it is for felons to get employment when they get out. I think our criminal justice system is overtaxed because they keep sending low level drug and non-violent offenders to prison. They'd be able to focus more on punishment and rehabilitation of violent young offenders like these if there was some changes made.

MattRothchild

Aug-21-13 4:06 PM

The only problem is that these programs represent a certain degree of liberty. I'd imagine that these programs would have to be done under very heavy guard.

AndreaJohnson

Aug-21-13 3:14 PM

Want my solution? Twenty years to life, along with opportunities to pursue education and learn a trade in prison and appropriate counseling. Then they should have a real chance to get a job when they get out and have community support that will keep them from falling back into crime. If they're still unrepentant, the parole board could always deny them parole; if they succeed in changing their lives, they get out in their 30s and still have some chance at a life. If there are extenuating circumstances (i.e. mental illness), perhaps the sentence is different. I also like the idea of requiring work with groups that serve victim's groups, maybe even while they are in prison.

MattRothchild

Aug-21-13 2:16 PM

"Given those facts, what kind of sentence is just when we're talking about a 15- or 16-year-old accused of murder?"

How about this? If I could make it work out as a sentence, I would force them to do many years of volunteer work for a support group geared toward the friends and families of murder victims.

Are 15 and 16 year olds who commit crimes now such hardcore criminals that they're beyond "saving"? Well...

MattRothchild

Aug-21-13 2:13 PM

"making a bad choice" or "making a stupid decision."

These are the types of terms used when appealing for clemency. I took the liberty of extrapolating the rhetoric.

AndreaJohnson

Aug-21-13 12:33 PM

By law, age is a determining factor in punishment of juveniles. The death penalty is automatically off the table for anyone under 18. So is a life sentence with no possibility of parole. The Supreme Court has ruled on both those issues.

Given those facts, what kind of sentence is just when we're talking about a 15- or 16-year-old accused of murder? I think they should serve prison time if they're guilty. I just question whether it should be so long a sentence that they're old men when they get out. I think rehabilitation should always be the goal with juveniles, even those who've committed this sort of crime.

locomotive

Aug-21-13 12:05 PM

I'm with Matt on this one. Juvenile offenders differ in their willingness to commit different offenses. Some will stop at shoplifting or joyride thefts. Others will go further into the more serious crimes: assault & battery, gang-motivated violence, murder.

The punishment should fit the crime. A juvenile offender's age shouldn't always be a game changer in determining punishment.

AndreaJohnson

Aug-21-13 9:36 AM

Matt, I don't believe I said murder was "making a bad choice" or "making a stupid decision." Anyone capable of doing something like this deserves punishment and has something very wrong with them. But I still think juveniles should be treated differently by the justice system, simply because they are juveniles.

Leftwing, there certainly will be some back to school stories, but this is also my opinion blog with opinions on current events.

MattRothchild

Aug-21-13 8:34 AM

"they just wanted to see some die, or kill someone."

"Gun culture" or not, when someone has a motivation like this, someone else is going to die.

I disagree, Andrea. "Making a bad choice" or "making a stupid decision" is when a kid shoplifts a candy bar or steals a car. Going out and committing murder because you "want to see someone die" is a completely different ball of wax.

 
 

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