Digging Deeper on Teen Killers

I goofed. I thought I had researched it thoroughly enough but the response to my last column showed me I did not. Consider this my mea culpa.

The column was about the number of juveniles we sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) on charges of murder or accessory to murder. I quoted a Human Rights Watch report that placed the number of "children" sentenced to LWOP at 2,574. I questioned how America's international stance on human rights squared with our "routinely toss(ing) kids" into prison for the rest of the lives.

As comments to the column rolled in I realized I had only written one side of the story.

Also, I came to be suspicious of the methodology Human Rights Watch employed to reach that figure of 2,574. Seems they included some 19 year olds in their count, making assumptions that they should be counted too. I'd researched a myriad of internet sites which quoted the HRW number as gospel. Now I realize the number had simply been accepted, without question, and repeated in news accounts, court briefs and even before many legislatures.

After the original column I got to know Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, the founder of the National Organization for Victims of Juvenile Lifers, and realized there was more to this issue. She wrote directing me to a scholarly report entitled, "Adult Time for Adult Crimes" (2009) written by Charles Stimson and Andrew Grossman and released by the Heritage Foundation. After an exhaustive and detailed study, they concluded that the number of teens serving LWOP is closer to 1300 - not 2,574. It could be as high as 1,500 since six of the states did not respond to the study. It also quotes the Attorney General of Rhode Island as saying the HRW folks got it wrong when they listed 2 LWOP juveniles in his state. There are none, haven't been any there for more than 25 years.

Jennifer wanted me to know that I'd failed to acknowledge the torment families of the dead experience - condemned to it for the rest of their lives. And, she directed me to obscure government statistics showing that most of these killer children weren't 8 or 9 years old, the biggest percentage are 16 and 17. Many are seasoned gang members. We cannot consider this breed of older teens as "children." They need their own separate category - especially once they kill.

"Unfortunately there are some people who are so dangerous they should never be allowed to walk among us," Jennifer told me on the phone. "I get so angry when their supporters say, 'Gee, they'll never get to drive a car or go to the prom!' Give me a break," she said with a weary sigh. "I'll never see my sister again or get to know her child."

In 1990 Jennifer's pregnant sister Nancy and her brother-in-law Richard Langert of Winnetka, Illinois, were tortured then murdered by a troubled kid named David Biro, just four weeks shy of his 17th birthday. Three years earlier Biro had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital after reportedly trying to poison his family. He had repeatedly bragged at school that he was the one who had shot the Langerts, which led police to him. Biro is one of those "children" who got life in prison with no parole, deemed too dangerous to ever let loose on society.

Another member of Jennifer's group is Daniel Horowitz, a prominent California attorney, whose cherished wife Pam was murdered at the construction site of their "dream home" by 17-year-old Scott Dyleski who is also serving life in prison with no parole. Horowitz wrote at the group's web site TeenKillers.org "It does not follow that to treat a killer like a wounded bird we are somehow touching the heart of the killer and healing through love. We are simply opening the gates of hell and pushing their next victim in."

Right after the New Year, Dora Larson also wrote of her suffering, "While so many people want these young killers freed because they were just 'children', I wish they could understand the sorrow I feel each New Year without my child. The years have eased the deep pain, but with the passing of an old year brings the same dull ache."

Kimberly Sorensen wrote of the murder of her 26 year old son at the hands of a 17 year old, "After Dan died, that vile boy said, 'He sure made a mess' and proceeded to use Dan's severed head as a puppet. I know it's difficult to think of putting a teenager in prison for life, but how many more innocent people have to serve lifetime sentences of pain and sorrow?"

The bottom line: We aren't "routinely tossing kids" into prison for the rest of their lives. The sentence of life without parole is applied rarely - yes, rarely - to those who were under 18 at the time of their crime. Don't believe all the well-funded hand wringing and erroneous statistics. Yes, it's tragic that even one young person should lose their freedoms but we must remember the damage they've done and the crimes they've committed: Brutal kidnappings and beatings, dismemberments, rapes - all ending in the most gruesome murders imaginable.

Jennifer and other grieving family members are why I write this now. They deserve consideration; I would argue they deserve more consideration than their loved one's killer.

Diane Dimond may be reached through her website at www.DianeDimond.com Her latest book, "Cirque Du Salahi" is available at www.Amazon.com