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Too young to drink but old enough to execute; The teenagers on Death Row USA.

AT 17, Greg Wynn was too young to buy a beer in a bar and too young to vote. But the American judicial system deemed he was old enough to die.

Greg, who has been found guilty of murder, now sits on Death Row along with 70 other American teenagers, all destined eventually to be executed for their crime.

Now aged 25, Wynn, who is black like many other Death Row inmates, was barely a man when he committed his crime and, under international convention, should have been tried as a juvenile in court.

But in the deep south Alabama town of Anniston, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to die.

Since 1990, the US has executed more people for crimes committed when they were children than any other country in the world, despite the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stating: "Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age."

Now Jim Pitts, a Republican representative in the Texas legislature, wants to make it legal to execute children as young as 11. He is to introduce legislation recommending the death sentence for 11-year-old killers and adult sentences for offenders aged 10 and above.

He admits: "I realise this is a drastic step. But today's kids are bad, more violent than ever before. They are not like they were when I grew up."

As the US prepares to execute 100 prisoners by the end of this year - the most since 1954 - inter-national human rights activists are calling for the end of a system they call barbaric, particularly when applied to teenagers.

Greg Wynn's story is not unusual. As a black youngster convicted of killing a white woman, his chances were slim.

His legal team believe he was the scapegoat for a vicious murder, but he was tried and found guilty in a country gripped by fear of violent juvenile crime.

There is strong public support for capital punishment in America, where someone is murdered every 27 minutes, though Amnesty International is now spearheading a campaign to stop the execution of teenage murderers and rapists. The human rights lobbyists believe the death penalty for children under the age of 18 is not only barbaric, but has been proven to be no deterrent for young criminals.

Wynn's trial lawyer Valerie Goudie was devastated when he was found guilty and the judge directed the death sentence.

She said: "I was absolutely heart- broken. I had got to know this young man over the months and I am sure it is a crime he did not commit."

Wynn's legal team claim once the local police had charged Wynn, they made no effort to find the others also involved in the killing.

At his trial, the jury was told that he bludgeoned to death 33-year-old mum-of-one Denise Carpenter, the night manager of a local fast food restaurant where he had once worked.

Valerie said: "Greg was alleged to have beaten her with a broom handle, then dragged her into the freezer room to make sure she died. She was night manager of the store. Greg was also accused of stealing $11,000 from the store.

"The court was told he then met up with his friends and boasted what he had done before taking them out for the night. The next morning he took his friends to the mall and bought them all new clothes.

"One of the motives the prosecution team tried to prove in court was that this was a revenge killing and that Greg had done it because Denise had fired him.

"In fact, we proved that wasn't the case and that Denise wasn't that person."

Prosecutors also tried to prove Wynn was a gang member who killed so he could get an infamous teardrop tattoo.

The teardrop mark can only be claimed once a member of the gang has committed a murder. Valerie and her team were able to ensure the court never heard that evidence, convinced if they did, the verdict would have been a foregone conclusion.

When the death sentence was handed down at the end of the five-day trial, Denise's family cheered with delight. Her mother Peggy said: "Greg Wynn is not a human. He is a two-legged animal."

Valerie said: "I have often changed my mind about exactly how I feel about the death penalty, but one thing I know for certain is we should not be treating our juveniles like adults and sentencing them to death. It achieves nothing."

Like all Death Row cases, Greg's has moved on to an automatic appeal.

Helen Beardsley, a British lawyer, has dedicated the last eight years of her life to helping those on Death Row.

She said: "I was in California at law school when the state held their first execution for 25 years and I knew it was wrong.

"I currently have one man on Death Row who was a juvenile when he committed his crime. He's now 24 and I strongly believe he is innocent.

"Evidence we have gathered has shown that it wasn't his gun which killed the man who died."

Helen, 38, has dealt with five Death Row cases in her six-year legal career.

She said: "As soon as I qualified, I moved to Texas to practise. This state executes more criminals than any other and currently has almost 20 juveniles on Death Row. I can only think they don't fully comprehend what happens when a man is put to death."

Helen believes her client, Nanon Williams, was involved in a drug deal which went tragically wrong when a white victim was left for dead.

She said: "Nanon has been incarcerated since he was 17. He's never voted, bought a drink in a bar or been able to go to a club.

"But the state says he must be treated like an adult in this matter and could pay the ultimate price."

Human rights lobbyists say that the death penalty simply doesn't work as a deterrent for youngsters such as Nanon and Greg. And FBI crime statistics bear out their arguments, showing juvenile murder is actually on the decline.

But a spate of horrific crimes involving youngsters - including the massacre of four pupils and a teacher by two boys of 11 and 13 in Arkansas - is prompting some states to push for a lower age at which children can be tried in criminal courts.

Some blame television violence or parental neglect, others point to the availability of weapons in a country where one in 12 students carries a gun.

There is growing horror at crimes being committed by a new breed of adolescent "super-predators" - children who murder with a nonchalance reminiscent of the teenage killers in A Clockwork Orange.

Jim Pitts' proposed law has been dismissed by death penalty opponents and George Bush Jr, the Texas governor, has distanced himself from the idea.

But Pitts has the backing of voters and politicians of both parties.

In Mississippi, where two schoolgirls were shot dead by a classmate last October, another bill would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for schoolchildren who kill.

California governor Pete Wilson has indicated he might favour a death sentence for children aged 13 or 14 instead of 16, and the Los Angeles district attorney, Gil Garcetti, is pushing for the death sentence for children "no matter what their age".

Of the 3500 people on Death Row, there are currently 70 juveniles awaiting execution in the 24 states empowered to sentence children under 17 to death. They are mostly poor, black or retarded.

Miguel Martinez, now 25, is among those waiting to die in Texas.

Sentenced for a robbery and murder committed when he was 17, he said: "I think there is a difference between killers who are 30 and 40 and those who are kids.

"Those people had time to learn, time to walk away from the abuse and the mental torture. We - people like me - had the abuse the same day we killed.

"Sure, I know right from wrong now, but I didn't then. The jails of this country are filled with people like me."

RANDY ARROYO Aged 17 at crime, now 18. Kidnapped and murdered 39-year-old man in San Antonio

MIGUEL MARTINEZ Aged 17 at crime, now 25. Robbed and murdered three men Webb County, Texas

RAYMOND COBB Aged 17 at crime, now 22. Murdered woman and 16-month-old baby in Huntsville, Texas

JOHN DEWBERRY Aged 17 at crime, now 20. Murdered 57-year-old man in Jefferson County, Texas

EFRIAN PEREZ Aged 17 at crime, now 22. Raped and killed two teenage girls in Houston, Texas

MARK SAM ARTHUR Aged 17 at crime, now 19. Murdered a 41-year-old man in Harris County, Texas

JOSEPH CANNON Aged 17 at crime, he was finally executed in Texas at the age of 38 for murder

RAUL VILLAREAL Aged 17 at crime, now 22. Raped and killed two teenage girls in Houston, Texas

MAURO BARRAZA Aged 17 at crime, now 26. Murdered a 73-year-old woman in Tarrant County, Texas

JOSE MONTERUBBIO Aged 17 at crime, now 21. Raped and killed teenage girl in Cameron County, Texas

SHAREEF COUSIN Aged 16 at crime, now 20. Murdered a man in New Orleans, Louisiana. Awaiting execution

GREG WYNN Wynn, right was 17 at crime, now 25. He was convicted of murdering the female boss of a store where he had once worked in Alabama

OSWALDO SORIANO Aged 17 at crime, now 23. Robbed and murdered man in Amarillo, Texas

T. J. JONES Aged 17 at crime, now 21. Robbed and murdered man in Gregg County, Texas

NANON WILLIAMS Aged 17 at crime, now 23. Murdered 19-year-old white man in Harris County, Texas

EDWARD CAPETILLO Aged 17 at crime, now 21. Murdered a 19-year-old white man in Houston, Texas

JOHNNIE BERNAL Aged 17 at crime, now 21. Murdered a 19-year-old white man in Houston, Texas
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Nugent, Emma; Hall, Allan
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 12, 1999
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