The House of Representatives voted down HB 1197 this afternoon, the bill by Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) that would have ended the practice of sentencing minors convicted of capital murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The vote was 29-53 against the legislation.
As he has in the past, Leding gave the example of Kuntrell Jackson, who was 14 years old at the time he participated in the robbery of a convenient store in Mississippi County. Jackson was waiting outside the store when his cousin shot the clerk in the store; Jackson received a murder charge along with his cousin and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
“At the age of 14 he should not go to prison for the rest of his life … I do believe that some people can be redeemed,” said Leding. Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke), said she supported the bill because “as a Christian, I believe in redemption,” and added “this bill does not automatically release anyone.”
HB 1197 would have opened the door to parole — though not guaranteed it — after 30 years in prison for juveniles convicted of murder. In the face of opposition from prosecutors, Leding had amended the bill to remove a provision that would have made it retroactive. That wasn’t enough to convince his colleagues in the House.
Rep. Rebecca Petty (R-Rogers), whose daughter was a murder victim and has pushed for firing squads to be used as an alternative method of execution in Arkansas, urged the chamber to vote the bill down. Rep. Michelle Gray (R-Melbourne) said she couldn’t vote for the bill. If a 15 year old who committed a capital murder today were to commit another capital murder after being released three decades later, Gray said, “that murder is on me.”
Rep. Dave Wallace (R-Leachville) objected to proponents of the bill referred to minors such as Jackson as children (although that is exactly what minors are). “We use the term ‘children’ over and over,” he complained “There’s another term. ‘Criminal.’ ‘Killer.'”