Four decades later, Gary Tyler is free

The Lousiana Weekly
May 9, 2016

After languishing in Louisiana’s maximum-security prison in Angola, La. for more than four decades, Gary Tyler was released on April 29.

Tyler, who was tried and convicted at the age of 16 for first-degree murder in the 1974 death of a white classmate at Destrehan High School during a period in which the River Parish school was rocked with heightened racial tensions amid efforts to integrate the school two decades after the Brown v. The Board of Education decision.Angola-Penitentiary-050916

Tyler, who was tried as an adult and spent nearly 42 years in the legendary penitentiary often referred to simply as Angola, is now 57.

After his conviction in Louisiana, a state many prison reform advocates refer to as the “prison capital of the world,” Tyler became a stark symbol of what is wrong with the criminal justice system in his home state and across the U.S.

“I am happy he has been released, but he should have never been tried and convicted as an adult in the first place,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “The criminal justice system in this region and state are still in existence and is still railroading Black people for crimes they either didn’t commit or hitting them with harsher sentences than they do their white counterparts.”

As an example of the injustice at work in the system, Brown says he learned about two decades ago that Louisiana has never sentenced a white teenager to death for killing a Black person. “That history goes all the way back to the 19th century,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly.

Brown said that information was shared with him by attorneys working on the case of Shareef Cousin, a teen convicted in the murder of a white Slidell man and sentenced to death. Cousin was later freed after evidence of prosecutorial misconduct under the administration of then Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. surfaced.

Norris Henderson, a New Orleans-based counselor working with Tyler to help ease his re-entry into society, told The Associated Press that Tyler’s first reaction after walking out of Angola was relief.

“For lack of a better word,” Henderson said in a telephone interview. “He said it felt as if a burden had been lifted. He went in there when he was a child, at 16. He’s coming out as an adult and that’s going to be challenging.”

On Oct. 7, 1974, Tyler was sitting on a bus filled with African-American students leaving Destrehan High School. As it passed a crowd of anywhere from 100 to 200 students and adults, some of those in the crowd yelled out racial slurs and threw rocks and bottles at the bus filled with Black students. In the midst of that chaos, a shot rang out and a 13-year-old white student named Timothy Weber was injured and later died at a hospital. While the initial search of the students and the bus turned up no weapon, a subsequent search by sheriff’s deputies found a gun in one of the bus seats.

With local and national efforts to end the prosecution of juvenile offenders as adults and a movement for criminal justice reform gaining momentum, things began to fall into place for Gary Tyler and the lawyers seeking his release.

The Associated Press reported that Tyler’s life sentence was recently declared unconstitutional. The St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office agreed to vacate Tyler’s conviction and Tyler agreed to enter a guilty plea to manslaughter and receive the maximum sentence of 21 years. Since he had already served more than twice that, Tyler was released from prison about 4:45 p.m. on April 29.

“It is long past time for Gary Tyler to come home,” said Tyler’s defense team, headed by attorney George H. Kendall, in a statement. “Hopefully this agreement will help to put this case to rest for Gary, the loved ones of Tim Weber and St. Charles Parish.”

Mary Howell, who represented Tyler and successfully obtained three Louisiana Pardon Board recommendations that his sentence be reduced, said, “This has been a long and difficult journey for all concerned. I feel confident that Gary will continue the important work he began years ago while in prison, to make a real difference in helping to mentor young people faced with difficult challenges in their lives.”

In court earlier on the day he was released, Tyler apologized to the Weber family for their loss and pain. “I accept responsibility for my role in this. I ask for prayers for the Weber family and for my family, and for healing in the days and weeks to come.

“While in prison, I tried my best to live a purposeful life and to become a responsible and caring adult. I am committed to living a meaningful and purposeful life outside of prison. I hope that I will be able to help others to find the way to peaceful resolution of conflict and to show compassion for each other, for the benefit of our community, our families and the world in which we live. Thank you.”

Tyler was convicted by an all-white jury in a 1975 trial his lawyers said was marred by racial prejudice and recanted witness statements. He initially was sentenced to death but that sentence was later reduced to life without parole in the wake of a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

While he has maintained his innocence throughout his four-decade ordeal, Tyler had sought a pardon for decades amid objections from the Weber family.

St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson said during the April 29 plea deal hearing that the Weber family agreed to the plea deal.

The Advocate reported that the plea deal came on the heels of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that juveniles convicted of murder as adults must get a chance at parole.

Tyler’s defense team told The Advocate that their client had served as a volunteer for decades with Angola’s hospice care program. Former Angola Warden John Whitley and former Assistant Warden Cathy Fontenot reportedly both supported his release.

Norris Henderson told The Associated Press that Tyler, who has a sister, plans to stay in Louisiana for an unspecified amount of time before eventually moving out-of-state. He was mum about Tyler’s future relocation plans, citing a need to give the former Angola inmate a chance to adjust to life outside of the penitentiary and time to adjust to the idea that he is now a free man.

“This is all new for him. Let’s just give him a few minutes to breathe,” Henderson said.

“As happy as I am for Gary Tyler and his family, I am mindful that his case wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “I have no doubt that there are many more Gary Tylers rotting away in Louisiana prisons and jails and others waiting to be railroaded by ambitious prosecutors and district attorneys.

“Why do so many people who were harshly sentenced have to wait three or four decades to be released from the vice grip of Louisiana’s penal system?” Aha added. “And who’s going to fight for all the Gary Tylers, Shareef Cousins, Curtis Kyleses and John Thompsons who are still either seeking justice or trying to piece their lives back together?”

This article originally published in the May 9, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Gary Tyler’s Long Road to Justice

The Progressive
By Lawrence Richard
May 11, 2016

When I visited Gary Tyler in Louisiana’s infamous Angola prison in 2003, he had been there for twenty-eight years. He would serve another thirteen years before his release, on April 29.

We met in a cafeteria and spoke for several hours. It was against Angola rules to take notes, but Tyler said just be discreet, it will be OK. Everyone seemed to like him—guards, prisoners and staff. His story was shattering. I took four pages of notes.

Gary Tyler’s case is not unlike an unfortunately large number of other miscarriages of justice. He was convicted under highly questionable circumstances, and subjected to decades of indifference from the legal system. In the end, there is little reason to believe his conviction for a capital offense was based on anything more than his being in the wrong place at the wrong time—and being black.

On October 7, 1974, Tyler, then a 16-year-old high school student, was arrested and accused of shooting 13-year-old Timothy Weber to death in the middle of a race riot at Destrehan High School in Destrehan, Louisiana.

Tyler was nowhere near the school when the riot broke out. Amid a tense school integration, there had been a black-white fight at the school’s Friday night football game three days before, and with tensions running high that Monday morning, Tyler was sent home early. But he was spotted and picked up by St. Charles Parish police officer V.J. St. Pierre, who had had a previous run-in with Tyler. St. Pierre didn’t believe Tyler’s story about being sent home, so he drove Tyler back to Destrehan High School and dropped him in the middle of a full-blown riot. From my notes:

“St. Pierre said get out of my fucking car.”

School had been canceled for the day, and as students rushed onto hastily assembled school buses, a white mob of hundreds threw rocks, sticks, and bottles. Tyler boarded bus 91, and as the bus pulled away, a shot was fired. Outside the bus, Timothy Weber was shot in the head and killed.

The bus pulled over and all passengers were ordered off. That’s when things started to go very badly for Gary Tyler. He came to the defense of a friend who was being interrogated by police about a bullet necklace around his neck. From my notes:

“What are you messing with him for? I got one just like it.”

One sheriff’s deputy told Tyler to cross a ditch, and when he did another deputy accused him of trying to flee. He was arrested for “disturbing the peace” and taken to a police substation, where Tyler says he was beaten with a blackjack by V.J. St. Pierre, who was Timothy Weber’s third cousin, and by other police. Tyler told me that St. Pierre vowed to find out who killed his cousin. He said the officer pulled him by the hair and called him a nigger.

When I visited Gary’s mother, Juanita Tyler, in her brick, working-class Destrehan tract house, she told me she went to the substation looking for Gary and could hear his cries from a back room. But Gary refused to confess.

Tyler was tried by an all-white jury. His lawyer had never before tried a capital case and, by his own admission, spent little time with his client before trial. Without a confession, the prosecution depended heavily on testimony from other students on the bus, four of whom later recanted their testimony. Key witness Natalie Blanks, a jilted girlfriend of Tyler, had a history false confessions, but this never came out at trial.

Police admitted it took them three searches of the bus to find the alleged weapon, a big 45-caliber pistol. Bus driver Ernest Cojoe, a Korean War veteran, said there was no way a 45 was fired from bus 91. The gun was later revealed to have gone missing from a firing range frequented by police. No link between gun and bullet was ever established. The gun had no prints, and it later vanished altogether.

The prosecution said gloves Gary Tyler wore at the scene tested positive for gunpowder residue, but experts later said the trace amounts of alleged gunpowder were too small for positive identification, and incorrect chemicals were used in the tests, which were conducted by a lab tech who was later fired for giving false testimony in another case. Experts said the bullet produced as evidence had too little residual matter to have caused a head wound. And Tyler’s lawyer failed to object to the judge’s highly prejudicial jury instructions. The judge essentially told the jury it could presume guilt.

In 1976, Tyler’s sentence was reduced to life, but under Louisiana law one needs a pardon to get paroled from a life sentence—it is de facto life without parole. Four years after that, a federal appeals court said Tyler’s trial had been “fundamentally unfair,” but no relief was granted.

Over the years two parole boards recommended parole, and twice the same governors that handpicked the boards rejected their recommendations. Former Governor Buddy Roemer cited Tyler’s failure to complete his GED, but Tyler repeatedly requested entrance into Angola’s educational programs and was repeatedly told they were full.

Tyler’s case drew widespread attention. There were protests, a defense committee. Gil Scott-Heron and UB40 recorded songs about Tyler. Amnesty International urged parole. But all that faded, and the years and decades passed. When I visited Gary, gone was the young man whose photos cut as dashing a figure as any of Patrice Lumumba or George Jackson—Tyler was settling into middle age.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional. On January 25 of this year, the court made that ruling retroactive. And, finally, in March of this year the court certified Tyler under the ruling and sent his case back to Louisiana for resentencing. At that point the state cut a deal: Tyler pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received the 1974 maximum sentence, twenty-one years. Having already served forty-one years, Tyler was released immediately.

At long last—at age fifty-seven—Gary Tyler is a free man.

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance writer in Belfast, Maine.

The Horrible Ordeal of Gary Tyler: Wrong Place, Wrong Time … and Black

counterpunch
By Lawrence Reichard
May 12, 2016

“Southern man, when will you pay them back?”

– Neil Young

I have waited 38 years to write the following words: Gary Tyler is a free man.

One of the greatest miscarriages of justice of the last 50 years ended April 29. After 41 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, Gary Tyler was released April 29. In 1975, at the age of 17, Tyler was convicted of shooting and killing 13-year-old Timothy Weber in the middle of a race riot at in Destrehan, Louisiana. Tyler was sentenced to death, and became the youngest person on death row in the country. His sentence was later reduced to life, but under Louisiana law Tyler would need a pardon to be released – it was essentially life without parole.

Gary Tyler’s real crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And being black. Gary’s jury was all-white. Case closed. The state of Louisiana stole 41 years of Gary Tyler’s life, and the state knew it every step of the way.

I first wrote about Gary in 1978, four years after his arrest and three years after his conviction, and in 2003 I visited and interviewed him in Louisiana’s infamous Angola prison, his home for four decades.

In October 1974, Destrehan High School was in the throes of a violent court-ordered desegregation. A black-white fight broke out a Friday night football game, and the following Monday more fights broke out at the school. Classes were canceled and the school’s buses were called to take students home.

Tyler was nowhere near the school. He was miles away, heading for home. Tyler had a reputation for his outspokenness, and with tensions running high, Gary was sent home early. He almost made it home, and had he, his life might have been very different.

But St. Charles Parish Police Officer V.J. St. Pierre spotted Tyler, and unconvinced by Tyler’s story, St. Pierre put Tyler in his police car and drove him back to Destrehan High School. They landed in the middle of a full-blown riot. A white mob had descended on the school and was throwing rocks and bottles as students boarded buses to go home. As Tyler’s bus pulled away a shot was fired and outside the bus 13-year-old Timothy Weber was shot in the head and killed.

The bus stopped, and its passengers were ordered off. Outside the bus Gary defended a student who was being interrogated about a bullet necklace around his neck. Tyler was detained and taken to a St. Charles Parish police substation, and then things started to go very badly.

Tyler says he was beaten with a blackjack by St. Pierre, the murder victim’s uncle, and by other officers. Tyler’s mother went to the police station looking for Gary, and later said she could hear Gary’s cries from a back room.

Despite the police thuggery, Tyler didn’t confess. The next day Tyler was transferred to court for arraignment, and Tyler’s head was covered by a jacket so media wouldn’t see his bruises.

In a parish that was 25 percent black and a state that was one third black, Tyler faced an all-white jury. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of other students, all of whom later recanted their testimony, saying they had been threatened with prison if they didn’t cooperate.

Key witness Natalie Blanks, a jilted girlfriend of Tyler, had a history of grandiosity and false confessions. This was not revealed at trial. Gary’s bus was twice searched by police and nothing was found, but on their third try police “found” a big 45-caliber pistol they had somehow missed before. Later the gun vanished altogether. The bus driver, a Korea War veteran, said there was no way a 45 was fired from the bus. It was later revealed the gun had gone missing from a firing range frequented by police. Experts said the slug had far too little residual matter to have caused a head wound. The gun had no prints, and no gun-bullet connection was ever established. Police said gloves Tyler was wearing proved positive for gunpowder residue, but incorrect chemicals were used in the tests, the trace amounts of alleged residue were insufficient for an accurate test, and the man who conducted the test was later fired for giving false testimony in another case.

Tyler’s lawyer had never tried a capital case. By his own admission he spent little time with Tyler prior to trial, and he failed to object to the judge’s highly prejudicial jury instructions. The judge essentially told the jury it could presume guilt. Four years later an appeals court found the trial fundamentally unfair, but did not order a retrial. Gary Tyler paid 41 years for his lawyer’s incompetence and for the appeals court’s bizarre concept of justice.

Parole boards twice recommended parole for Tyler, and twice governors rejected the recommendations of their own handpicked boards. Governor Buddy Roemer cited Tyler’s failure to complete high school while in prison, but Tyler had repeatedly sought entrance into educational programs and had been repeatedly told they were full.

Finally, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional. Then in January of this year, fully four years later – who’s in a hurry? – the court ruled that its 2012 finding was retroactive, and in March the court sent Tyler’s case back to Louisiana for re-sentencing. At that point the state cut a deal. Tyler pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received the maximum 21 years. Having already served 41 years, Tyler was released immediately. Gary Tyler’s 41-year nightmare was finally over. At long last he was a free man.

But how many more Gary Tylers are out there, Gary Tylers we never hear about? And how many have been executed? Having followed Gary’s case for 38-plus years, I believe those who estimate that ten percent of those executed in this country are innocent.

Lawrence Reichard lives in Belfast, Maine, and can be reached at lreichard@gmail.com.

National Conference of Black Lawyers calls for Gary’s release

Gary Tyler was born in July 1958. Originally sentenced to death, he now is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole to comply with the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling finding Louisiana’s death penalty unconstitutional. Gary was convicted in January 1977, at the age of 17, for first degree murder in the death of a 13 year old white boy that occurred when Gary was 16 years old. The murder of the 13 year old took place in a racially charged atmosphere, exacerbated by the Ku Klux Klan, when Louisiana was attempting to desegregate the schools as a result of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. There are significant problems with Mr. Tyler’s conviction. Amnesty International, citing disturbing racial and political factors that occurred during the case, has deemed Gary Tyler a political prisoner.

Join the National Conference of Black Lawyers in honoring the spirit of Mandela on the occasion of his 93rd birthday in calling for the end to the woman-hunt for Assata Shakur and release of Gary Tyler.

Enacting forgiveness and redemption

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A passion play in prison

The Economist
By C.D.
May 15, 2012

IT IS painfully hot and dry in the rodeo arena at Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in America. Under a blazing sun American flags hang limply around the sand-covered enclosure, where 70 prisoners are acting out a unique version of “The Life of Jesus Christ”. By the time the three ingeniously constructed crosses are raised on a small hill of dirt, the physical torture of a slow death by crucifixion is palpable.

This is the first time a passion play has been staged at a state prison. The idea came from a meeting between Cathy Fontenot, an assistant warden at Angola, and representatives of Sir Jack Stewart-Clark, who had staged a version of this play at his Dundas Castle in Scotland. Burl Cain, the prison warden, gave the project his full approval. The head of the 18,000-acre prison for nearly two decades, Mr Cain firmly believes in the moral rehabilitation of offenders, and in the potential for redemption through Christian faith. He also believes that, like Jesus, some of the men here are innocent. Profits from the three early-May performances went to the Louisiana Prison Chapel Foundation.

The cast was drawn from Angola’s all-male population of nearly 5,330 prisoners and the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women at St Gabriel. Inmates from both prisons came to watch in separate sections of the stands; a swathe of blue jeans with white T-shirts for the men, jeans and blue shirts for the women. Most of the men in Angola are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Gary Tyler, the longtime president of the Angola Prison Drama Club and the play’s director, is one of them. In a trial that a federal appeals court found to be “fundamentally unfair”, he was convicted of murder and originally sentenced to death. Since his arrival at Angola in 1975 there have been repeated calls for his release.

Suzanne Lofthus, a Scottish director, travelled to Angola to coordinate the production. This took much longer than planned. Her first visit in 2010 was delayed when air traffic over Europe was grounded because of the Icelandic volcano. In 2011 the run was cancelled when floodwater from the hugely swollen Mississippi river threatened the prison. Barely four weeks before the May 2012 premiere, the original location had to be abandoned and the whole play restaged inside the rodeo arena.

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At the heart of this huge and unprecedented production were the members of the prison’s Drama Club. The group regularly performs, but this was their first time doing so out of doors and before a paying public. Preparation took place alongside their regular prison duties, such as caring for their ageing and dying fellow inmates in the prison hospice. There was no budget for the production. Sets and props were created on site by the prisoners from whatever they had at hand. Roman shields were made from painted prison-issue rubbish bins (but looked oddly authentic). The costumes were designed, dyed, sewn and trimmed using whatever fabric could be found or donated. The centurion was resplendent in scarlet and gold, his rippling six-pack breastplate and leather tunic an exquisite trompe l’oeil of dyed and hand painted linen.

A 7,500-seat open-air stadium is a challenging space for even experienced professional actors to fill. Yet the scene in which Jesus, played by a prisoner named Bobby Wallace who is incarcerated for armed robbery, declared “If any of you is without sin let him be the one to cast the first stone”, there was a moment of profound silence, broken only by birdsong and the sound of empty paper cups blowing off the bleachers in a welcome breeze, followed by exclamations of “wow”.

Some members of the audience were from local church groups, identifiable by their matching T-shirts bearing inspirational slogans: “Thank God I’m Forgiven”. Others were friends and family of the cast. The production was regularly punctuated with cries of “hallelujah”, “thank you lord”, “alright” and “yes lord Jesus” at key moments. Occasionally the audience muttered its disapproval when favourite passages were delivered without enough vigour.

Jimmie Patterson, who played both a shepherd and Pontius Pilate, discovered his gift for acting and singing after he was convicted of armed robbery. He sang in one of the play’s musical highlights when the shepherds serenade Mary with a powerful a cappella version of the Mark Lowry song “Mary Did You Know”. Then as Pilate he sits in judgment, sentencing an innocent man to death amid a baying crowd. (In a touch of pure Louisiana, the devil tempts Jesus with glittering purple and green Mardi Gras beads.)

Judas came in for a lot of heckling and some snide laughter from the audience. “Traitor” was shouted through most of his performance, and his contemplation of suicide was greeted with “go on do it”. But Levelle Tolliver, who is serving life for shooting a man in the head, managed to convey his character’s anguish, the complexity of his guilt; in so doing he took the audience beyond their knee-jerk reaction to the pantomime villain. If Jesus died to save everyone, then surely the audience could forgive even the man who betrayed him. When Mr Tolliver exited the arena, it was to loud and sustained applause.

It is a unique experience to watch prisoners re-enact the ultimate act of forgiveness in a setting where few will be granted parole. At Angola, the 89 men on death row are housed a short walk away, and the last execution by lethal injection was carried out as recently as 2010. When the centurion authorising the removal of Jesus’s body says, “That’s the governor’s signature all right”, the parallels felt plain.

The audience was silenced again when the centurion, contemplating the cross, says, “A mother should never have to see her child die”. The moment felt charged by its context, but also poignantly out of time. The silence was broken by the unintelligible crackle of a corrections officer’s radio.

Supreme Court strikes down mandatory life terms for juveniles

The 5-4 decision invalidates laws in 28 states that required such sentences for young murderers. More than 2,000 prisoners could now receive new sentences or parole hearings.

Los Angeles Times
By David G. Savage
June 25, 2012

WASHINGTON — It is cruel and unusual punishment to send a young murderer to die in prison if a judge has not weighed whether his youth and the nature of his crime merited a shorter prison term, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The 5-4 decision struck down laws in 28 states that mandated life terms for juvenile murderers with no hope for parole.

The justices ruled in the cases of two 14-year-old boys, one from Alabama and one from Arkansas, who were given life terms for their roles in homicides. But the decision applies to all those under 18 who are sentenced under mandatory laws.

The ruling could lead to new sentencing or parole hearings for more than 2,000 prisoners around the country who committed homicides when they were young and were given mandatory life terms. The justices set a new constitutional rule that prisoners could cite in their appeals.

Monday’s decision does not free any prisoner, and it does not forbid judges in the future from imposing life terms on young killers. But it stands as a potentially far-reaching victory for those who have objected to imposing long prison terms on young offenders.

Speaking for the court, Justice Elena Kagan said the decisions of the last decade had established, or restored, the principle that “children are different” when it comes to criminal punishments.

“Our decisions rested not only on common sense — on what ‘any parent knows’ — but on science and social science as well,” she said. Juveniles are immature and are less deserving of the harshest punishments, she said.

In the case of young people who take part in a homicide, “a judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty,” Kagan said. “We therefore hold that mandatory life without parole for those under age 18 at the time of their crimes violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishments.’ ”

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor agreed.

The decision was the third in a decade that puts new constitutional limits on punishments for young criminals. All have come by 5-4 votes, with Kennedy joining the court’s liberal bloc. In 2005, the court abolished the death sentence for those under 18 who are convicted of murder. In 2010, the justices went further and said life terms with no parole were unconstitutional for juveniles who commit crimes short of murder.

The pair of cases involving 14-year-olds asked the high court to abolish life prison terms for such young offenders. But the justices opted for a narrower ruling that targeted only mandatory laws.

Chief Justice John G. RobertsJr.dissented. “Put simply, if a 17-year-old is convicted of deliberately murdering an innocent victim, it is not unusual for the murderer to receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole,” he said. The fact that 28 states have such laws prove it is not unusual punishment. “Perhaps science and policy suggest society should show greater mercy to young killers.… But that is not our decision to make.” Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas andSamuel A. Alito Jr. joined in dissent.

Alito also delivered a stinging dissent in the courtroom. He spoke of the “incredibly brutal” crimes perpetrated by 17-year olds, and he accused the majority of exposing “members of society … to the risk that these convicted murderers, if released from custody, will murder again.”

Kagan replied in a footnote that the court’s decision did not tell judges to ignore the “most heinous” crimes, but rather to reserve the harshest punishment for such crimes.