Episode 5: 'The Teenage Brain Is Like a Sports Car'
KAI: In one instant, everything can change. You make a choice and...just like that, you’ve lit a fire, sometimes one you can’t control.
These kinds of moments have been turning points in pretty much all the stories we’ve told in this series. Remember Honor, back in Episode 4? He grabbed that knife and in a flash – his life changed forever.
Or remember Z? When he and his friends walked into that convenience store to commit armed robbery, they made a choice they couldn’t take back. And these decision points, they’re also a big deal in the broader story of juvenile justice right now--and particularly of reform.
I’m Kai Wright, this is Caught, We’ve begun to understand that our brains handle split second decisions very differently when we’re young -- and that knowledge has changed the legal debate around juvenile justice.
WNYC’s health guru Mary Harris has been thinking a lot about that change. Hey Mary.
MH: Hey everyone. So Kai, I have a test for you.
MH: OK this is a test of the brain. So, here’s how it works. You’re going to sit in front of this computer screen.
KAI: OK. I can do that.
MARY: You see that little red plus sign?
KAI: I see that. It’s in the center of the screen.
MH: Right in the middle. It’s just kind of, just giving you a place to focus…
KAI: OK…I’m focused on it, I’m looking.
MH: Now here’s what’s going to happen. It’s going to go away...and do you see a pinpoint of light appear somewhere else in your peripheral vision.
KAI: Ok yeah, I see it. It’s off to the right, it’s just a little spek...
MH: OK. Here’s the test. The only thing you have to do when this light appears is look AWAY from it.
KAI: That’s it? Just don’t look at it?
MH: Yup --That is it.
KAI: Okay, I see the red plus sign...oh, it’s gone….and there’s the second light.
MH: Look away.
KAI: I did it, I did it. And just what is all this measuring?
MH: Let me introduce you to one of the foremost experts on the importance of this test. Bea Luna – she’s a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh.
LUNA: Hi Mary, How are you?
I called her when I read about this test.
LUNA: I did not invent that it's been around for awhile.
She says this is measuring something called “Saccades”
LUNA: S a c c a d e and Saccade means eye movement and the eye movements to like a visual target is like the quickest motor movement that your brain can do.
MH: And because these movements are so fast, you can’t fake the results.
LUNA: These eye movement tasks. Adolescents are not good at them.
KAI: (laughs) And so what happens when a teenager takes one of these tests?
MH: Bea Luna says this is where it gets really interesting.
LUNA: What we see that adolescents do maybe 30% of the time - is that they look at the light and then they turn the other way - they’re like “Aw shoot!” - then they look the other way.
MH: Teenagers are basically unpredictable. They CAN do this right. But they mess up.
LUNA: And that’s very compelling, because it’s saying, I knew exactly what you wanted me to do. But my brain – I couldn’t stop it in time. I couldn’t have the executive part of my brain that’s saying, “You know what, you know what you have to do? Don’t look at this frickin light!”
So, what she’s talking about here -- the executive part of your brain – when that’s working – it is a sign your brain is mature
KAI: I get it, I understand.
And the teenage brain--it’s just not there yet. Actually, tests like this one show that our brains don’t really mature until we’re in our twenties. And the doctor with the eye movement test - as crazy as it sounds - ends up being weirdly important in changing how courts treat juvenile offenders in this country.
Because when lawyers learned about this science, they made it part of their argument that juvenile offenders are different, and should be treated differently: different punishments, shorter sentences.
KAI: We’ve talked a lot about smaller piecemeal fixes, and those are important, but the story Mary is about to tell us is about a real chance to chip away at the mass incarceration that starts so young.
MH: And it’s about thousands of people getting a second chance.
MH: Yep, I’m here. Can you hear me?
I’m talking about people like this.
MH: OK Great.
This is a 26-year-old named Stephen Hall.
MH: Tell me what you have a breakfast this morning just so I can I can hear how you sound.
Stephen was 17 when he was arrested for second degree murder in rural Pennsylvania.
SH: We had Farina and a blueberry muffin surprisingly --
MH: Is that like a good thing?
SH: I mean yeah I haven't had a blueberry muffin probably in about nine years
MH: Oh my god.
SH: Yeah. Life as I know it.
He was sentenced to LIFE - no parole. He’s been in for 9 years. For now, he’s trying to make the most of his time inside.
MH: Just so it’s clear, in the background, is that one of your dogs you’re looking after?
MH: (woof woof) Is that one of your d-
He’s gotten pretty good at training dogs for the disabled.
MH: What kind of dog is it? (bark bark bark)
SH: It’s a purebred Labrador trained to be service dogs. This one's Polar -- Polar leave - polar come.
Stephen ended up here after a night with some friends went very, very wrong.
SH: How do I start out now? I guess I was just like any other teenager. I just got caught up with a bad group of people that I probably should have thought better of being with but...
It started with some drugs.
SH: Yeah I was I was passed out, I was high on heroin I was drinking so I was pretty much comatose in my chair. Passed out.
Which is when his friend, a guy named RJ, woke him up and said: I’ve got this idea. Let’s go for a ride.
SH: But you know when he said, you want go for a ride like usually I just be able to go ride around we maybe shoot off at some deer we see at the side of the road. It doesn't mean it doesn't mean what happened [laughs in shock].
This one decision, to jump in a car, go for a ride -- it’s the moment when everything changed for Stephen.
I tracked down this old police tape from when he was arrested back in 2008.
TROOPER: OK, we started the recording… Just so we know who all’s in the room… I’m Trooper Greg Raybuck, I’m with Trooper Tim Whitman…
Stephen had just turned 17 at the time. His parents are actually with him for this interrogation.
GAIL: Hall. …
TROOPER: Rhonda Hall, which are parents to Stephen Hall
TROOPER: It is October 15th, at um - about 5 after 2 PM.
You can hear how young Stephen sounds, also but how trusting he and his parents are - as the police read Stephen his rights.
TROOPER: Having those rights in mind do you agree to answer questions today?
STEPHEN: Yeah! …. I already told ‘em I’ll do as much as I can...
The police had been investigating the death of a man named Tim Finucan for a couple of months by the time they got to Stephen. They’d traced the fatal shot to Stephen’s gun.
STEPHEN: I mean I told you guys - I told you and the other guy I --
TROOPER: I explained to you last night that the bricks were starting to fall and they were all going to come crumbling down, that’s what happened between last night and today. All the evidence we’ve got... we know you were there. So that’s where we need to start.
GAIL: Was you there?
GAIL: Why didn’t you tell us last night Stephen?
STEPHEN: Because I was scared.
TROOPER: Rightfully so.
This was the moment Stephen knew: he’d been caught. So he tells the police how the night started out, with shooting at deer, and drinking. And then his friend RJ got the idea to drive deeper into the Allegheny National Forest and rob Tim Finucan.
TROOPER: Why did he tell you he wanted to go to that place again?
SH: Yeah he said he worked on the guys’ house with Leonard - he paid in big wads of cash - figured he had tons of money on him. If I’d found out he would have killed the guy I would have jumped out the car.
Talking to him on the phone almost a decade later, Stephen still seems surprised about what happened in those woods.
SH: Yeah when we were for the ride we just pulled up in his driveway and he was like yeah I fixed fixed up this guy's house with my girlfriend's grandpa or whatever he’s like I know he got some pills in here.
This part of Pennsylvania has more in common with Appalachia than Philadelphia. There is a herd of elk here. Lots of deer. Lots of guns, too. Which is why Stephen had his in the car.
SH: So when he come up that driveway with that Gun and we see that truck we figure out I mean all somebody must be here. We devise a quick little plan to go ahead have me get the guy out of the house fake an injury walk him down the driveway of the drive is probably like at least fifty yards and I'm thinking like I get him all the way to the bottom of the driveway fake an injury I’ll just take off in the woods - and by that time R.J. should be in the house to get what he is a get be out by the time the guy gets back to the house.
Stephen went to the front door to get Tim Finucan outside. RJ grabbed the gun and waited to slip inside the house. Stephen was walking Finucan down the driveway when he heard a shotgun blast.
SH: When I heard that first shot go off, I pretty much just stopped dead in my tracks because. Like the first thing with my mind I mean I was high and all but like as soon as something like that happened. Like the whole high went away I wasn’t high no more – I was completely sober like that shit just put me into a stage of high alert pretty much and I just I froze my tracks to start looking around like WHAT THE FUCK’s going on right now.
Stephen didn’t know why RJ shot Tim Finucan. But he knew he was in the line of fire.
SH: He was visible to me – I seen him get hit. It didn’t looked like he got hit, like he stayed on his feet and everything and kept walking like I’d see a little bit of a jerk but I never imagined that. Like you see that shit in movies all time you think like it's nothing but when you actually see it…
I was a little shaky I guess. But then when I heard the second shot, heard like a kind of grunt or gurgle type noise and that I’ve been trying to forget that ever since it happened. And I took of running into the woods.
MH: How far did you run?
SH: I don't even know. I really don't. I ran that was I started on trees tripping over tripping over barbed wire and bushes of shit. And I finally came out, what felt like hours later, but it was probably about like maybe like half an hour later. Finally found my way to the road just started walking back to my friend's house.
Tim Finucan lay in his driveway until the next day, when a neighbor found him.
SH: I kind of have a hard time like replaying it in my mind, like like a scene for scene. But, like I'll be times where I'll get like little, like, tidbits of popped my head what happened this time, what happened this time. Things like that usually I mean like when it first happened that shit played in my head while I was sleeping over and over and over again like a frickin’ nightmare.
Stephen didn’t tell his parents what happened for two months. The first time they heard this story, was when they were sitting with Stephen in that interrogation room, audiotape rolling, and he was confessing.
SH: And then he just - all I heard was UHH and then I heard - I ran into the woods. I didn’t want to be involved like I am now.
MOM: Who all was there?
That’s Stephen’s mom, Rhonda.
SH: Just me and him.
There are no lawyers here. Stephen’s dad speaks up, says he’s proud of Stephen.
GAIL: I’m very proud of you.
TROOPER: Takes a lot of courage to do that.
MOM: Should have done it last night.
STEPHEN: I know but I was scared.
Throughout the interview, Stephen keeps saying this. That he’s scared. And his parents are treating him like he’s… a kid.
When Stephen was in middle school and his parents found out he was smoking pot, they gave him a tough talk – and then they called the cops. Tried to scare him straight. They really trusted law enforcement. It’s just who they are.
At the end of the tape, Stephen’s mom Rhonda asks:
RHONDA: Now what?
It’s so quiet you can barely hear it. Stephen says “now they’re going to arrest us.”
TROOPER: I’m going stop the recording now, since we’re done with the questioning…
Here’s what happened.
Stephen was arrested. Even though he was 17, he was charged with second degree murder in adult criminal court. He never went home. Eventually, he and RJ went on trial, together. The jury deliberated for six hours – and found them both guilty.
At Stephen and RJ’s sentencing, the judge talked about the teenage mind: he said “the teenage brain is like a sports car. It’s got a great engine, fantastic acceleration, but very poor brakes.” And the night Tim Finucan was killed, the brakes were off.
But the life sentence he gave Stephen was mandatory. It was right there in the sentencing guidelines. Back then, it didn’t really matter what the brain science said.
SH: At first I never even imagined I was going to get this amount of time let alone my life sentence that I originally had I never even. I never crossed my mind I thought maybe At most I'll do a couple wants maybe a year or something and imagine that I could do this amt of time.
KAI: So I’m back with Dwayne Betts. You’ll remember, he’s been with be throughout this podcast as I try to understand these stories. Dwayne, I just have so many questions about Stephen’s case. And it seems like to me – I mean, the kid just ran away from what happened. He didn’t commit the actual murder. So why was life mandatory for him?
DWAYNE: it's one of the spaces in which the problems with adult criminal law get highlighted when the defendant is under age 18. And so in Pennsylvania, they have felony murder, also called second degree murder, and it means that you didn't have to intend to commit the homicide, if you were there. So if you were an accomplice and a person you're with murdered somebody, you are held fully accountable for that murder as well, and it carries a mandatory life sentence.
I mean, there's cases in Pennsylvania where people were drunk in the car when somebody committed a robbery and murdered somebody, and they get a life sentence, a mandatory life sentence. And the real thing is that this raises questions about broader criminal law issues, that it’s not just about Steven being a juvenile. But we only think about how pernicious this law is because Steven as a juvenile.
KAI: So you've got this cascading effect we've got these really inflexible laws for adults. We put kids into it and they are doubly inflexible as a consequence.
DWAYNE: And we don't actually pretend that we imagine that the laws accounted for the behavior that occurred.
DWAYNE: When he's found guilty of felony murder. We don't actually believe that he intended to kill the victim. We know that he didn't intend to kill the victim. And it's more clear, more plain when you deal with a juvenile. And I think that's the tragedy of this particular situation.
Up next, how science convinced the Supreme Court that there really is such a thing as too much punishment for kids -- and what that decision might mean for Stephen Hall.
KW: To understand how brain science got to the Supreme Court, you need to meet one person...
STEPHEN: And this is not live, right?
His name is Stephen Harper.
STEPHEN: OK cuz I sometimes go blahlbhalbhalh. (laughs)
Mary Harris caught up with him recently.
MH: Stephen Harper is a lawyer. Spent years defending juveniles. But watching his clients get longer and longer sentences – adult sentences – made him feel a little hopeless. So he decided to focus on a less frustrating specialty. Death penalty litigation.
STEPHEN: -- I said well I'm not doing what I wanted to do, and what I want to do now is to try to save people's lives, because I'm not saving children's lives.
And Stephen Harper’s fight to use science to change the way we think about juvenile offenders started when those two worlds -- juvenile defense and the death penalty litigation -- collided.
STEPHEN: Iit was in 1999. It was November of 1999.
A friend at the American Bar Association sent him a list, 5 names, all men who had committed crimes as juveniles. All of whom were scheduled to be executed over the next year.
STEPHEN: And I remember being shocked by that and hadn't really thought about the juvenile death penalty.
The United States was one of just a few countries still doing this. The others included Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Iran. TV news began to pick up on it.
ANDREA MCCARREN: That will make this a record setting month for the United States. Three executions of juvenile offenders in one month. That’s compared to 10 over the last decade.
And Harper started lending a hand with individual cases. But four out of the five men on that list were executed anyway. So he decided he had to do more --
STEPHEN: Initially we were working on a case by case basis then we said wait a minute we're going to form an organization that is specifically aimed at ending the juvenile death penalty.
And all along, he is trying to make this bigger case...
STEPHEN: Our slogan really became simple which was: kids are different and they shouldn't be subject to the ultimate penalty, because they're so different.
But he had this problem: how do you prove that kids are different? It seems like it’s just common sense. And this is where the brain science comes in.
JUSTICE STEVENS: The opinion of the Court in No. 00-8452 Atkins against Virginia will be announced by Justice Stevens.
Because as Stephen Harper is trying to make his case, this decision comes out from the
Supreme Court. Atkins v. Virginia. It was about people with intellectual disabilities.
JUSTICE STEVENS: Those mentally retarded persons who meet the law's requirements for criminal responsibility...should be tried and punished when they commit crime. Because of their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment and control of their impulses, however, they do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct.
THIS is the magic word. The justices ruled that because people with mental disabilities have problems with judgement and impulse control, they CAN’T be executed. They are less CULPABLE. Stephen Harper heard that and thought: I know some other people who have problems with judgment and impulse control.
STEPHEN: And in that decision they actually talk about people with mental retardation as being children. And we jumped on that word and said wait a minute if if if the mentally retarded are children then clearly children are children and they should not be executed either.
And Harper realized the brain science could prove it. Kai - you remember that test I gave you at the top of the show? With the blinking lights?
KAI: Yah. The saccades, or whatever they’re called, and that neuroscientist… Dr. Luna…
MH: Yeah so Harper recruited scientists like Dr. Luna to help him translate all this heady neuroscience into legalese.
STEPHEN: So that became obvious. That kids’ brains were different… And I was taught when I was a lawyer by the judges that children’s brains were fully developed when they were 14 years old.
That’s how much the science has changed in just the last couple of decades.
Harper dug in. He took two years off from his public defender job to recruit more scientists all over the country, convincing them to release policy statements about the teenage brain, stuff he could use as evidence in court. All the while, he was just waiting for the right case to pop up, so he could bring his argument to Washington.
CNN: Should a 16 year old killer face the death penalty?
NPR: The case comes from Missouri and involves a particularly brutal and senseless murder…
Eventually, that case found him.
PBS: It started as a burglary at this home in Fenton Missouri... early on a September murder 1993.
A horrific murder committed by teenager Christopher Simmons…
PBS: They bound her, put her in her own vehicle, transported her to a bridge, and threw her over alive.
STEPHEN: It was a horrible case. And he was offered a plea of life. And his mother and other adults convinced him not to take it. His case was tried and he was sentenced to death and he was a juvenile obviously at the time that he committed the crime.
But Simmons’ lawyer appealed, and then appealed again, arguing that a teenager like Christopher Simmons shouldn’t be executed because he was just as impulsive as someone with intellectual disabilities.
In 2004, Simmons’ case headed to the Supreme Court.
ROPER CASE: We’ll hear argument now in number 03633 Donald Roper vs. Christopher Simmons…
Stephen Harper helped prepare Simmons lawyer for this moment. In the oral argument, the justices and Seth Waxman -- that’s the lawyer representing Christopher Simmons -- mention the term “science” or “scientific” 29 times. More times than they mention the name of Christopher Simmons himself.
With just a few minutes left, Justice Scalia asks - does it really MATTER that teenagers change?
SCALIA: Everybody changes! But that doesn’t justify eliminating the proper punishments that society has determined!
WAXMAN: I think with respect Justice Scalia…
Waxman jumps in, and pivots, right back to the science.
WAXMAN: Science has confirmed what we intuitively know which is that when the jury gets around to evaluating what the character *was* that manifested that horrible crime…
And this is the CRUX of his argument...
WAXMAN: They can't tell, whether the crime that occurred 2 years ago or 2 weeks ago was the manifestation of an enduring character or transient psychosocial traits that rage in adolescence.
He’s saying: all the things that could lead a teenager to commit a crime, the brain science says they could be part of their inherent teenager-ness. So young people are less culpable, even when they do something awful.
When the Supreme Court made their decision, one of the first people Seth Waxman told was Stephen Harper.
STEPHEN: About 20 minutes after he got the opinion e-mailed to him from the Supreme Court he emailed me with nothing but exclamation points. So I knew that we had won. It was a spectacular moment.
KAI: So - juveniles couldn’t be executed anymore?
MH: Right. And this case became the first of a whole series of cases that changed how we treat juvenile offenders. Including that guy I introduced you to at the top of the show, Stephen Hall.
KAI: The guy who got the life sentence in Pennsylvania?
MH: Right. After the Supreme Court made it unconstitutional to execute juveniles, they started winding back other harsh sentences. First, they decided juveniles could only be sentenced to LIFE if they committed MURDER. Then, a couple of years later, they made it unconstitutional to give mandatory life sentences no matter what your crime. Then, they made that decision RETROACTIVE.
MH: Right, so if a juvenile offender is serving a mandatory life sentence already - the way Stephen is - they are eligible to be resentenced. Some of these people are getting out of prison on the spot. Stephen Hall told me he had been WAITING for this…
SH: A lot of people they get arrested they come up here, they just sit back, they don't try to get out, they just do their time. But I just went to law library pretty much almost every day for a couple years straight fight my case. Until finally the juvenile lifers stuff came out.
MH: How did you hear about the juvenile lifer stuff?
SH: There was there was probably just fifteen of us in this jail so everybody was like keeping tabs on it somebody heard it through C.-SPAN and the news just spread rapidly.
Stephen would be appearing in front of that same judge who sentenced him the first time around, the one who said the teenage brain was like a sports car, and Stephen said he was scared as hell.
SH: Definitely ...nervous. Whatever I get. Is just what it's going to be.Unless I get something crazy like forty years to life or something I can appeal that you say it's an o-facto life sentence that even though it's not a life sentence it’s pretty much make me and the rest my life in prison.
RHONDA: It’s going to change everybody.
The day before the hearing, I asked Stephen’s mom Rhonda how she hoped the judge would rule.
RHONDA: I mean. Yes we all know it’s going to be something different from life, but nobody knows.
Rhonda still lives about a half hour drive from the crime scene, in a small town that has more churches than traffic lights. When we spoke, she was surrounded by family: her mother, her sister, Stephen’s dad. Almost everyone was planning to stay the night, in her tiny 2 bedroom house. They were trying to keep her calm. Eventually, she told me she was hoping the judge would let Stephen out after just 6 more years.
Stephen’s dad was more direct.
GAIL: I’m hoping he gets out tomorrow. I really do. So we can love him just like we love him our whole life. Hoping judge leans on it a little bit, helps him out so he can get his life started.
Stephen was set to appear in the Elk County Courthouse at 9:00 AM the next morning. It was a gorgeous spring day - warm, late April sun. There were birds singing. It felt hopeful.
GUARD: Good morning! Where do you need to go?
At the security checkpoint, family members trickled in, one by one. Stephen’s hearing was the main event. There is just one judge here, one courtroom.
SECURITY: So no weapons on anybody - no electronic devices, no smartwatches...
MH: What did you go out to get?
SISTERS: Mints for mom - for my mother...
Stephen’s aunts ran in and out a couple of times.
SISTERS: She’s really nervous - they’ll settle her stomach.
Everyone here is worried.
RHONDA: it’s been a long road - really hoping for a good outcome - so just - said a prayer this morning and came to the courthouse (laughs)... it’s what we do
SECURITY: No electronic devices on any kind, no cell phones...
The guard made me leave my equipment in a locker out front --
SECURITY: You can’t take that upstairs - nothing like that on the second floor.
And I went upstairs into the courtroom, to wait.
I sat on the victim’s side, hoping to meet Tim Finucan’s family. But the only people in my row were a couple of high schoolers shadowing the District Attorney. Later on, I drove out to the crime scene where the family has built a small memorial to Tim Finucan, where his ashes are scattered. His brother Mike lives in the house now. But he said he didn’t come here because he felt he’d said his piece at trial.
Back in the courtroom, I watched as two rows filled up with Stephen’s family and friends - 18 people total.
Stephen was up front, his hands and legs shackled together, in an orange jumpsuit. He’s started losing his hair in prison, and he ran his hands over his close-cropped head as he waited for the judge to arrive.
At 10 AM, the prosecutor began to make his case. He acknowledged that Stephen “may not have known what he was getting himself into” the night Tim Finucan died - but urged the judge to think about the victim. He said Finucan “will never have the benefit of waking up on a spring morning, hearing the birds, hearing the woods wake up.” He wanted Stephen’s sentence to reflect that.
Then – Stephen’s lawyer began calling witnesses. One of the first was 25-year-old Ashley Eck. She’s a middle school math teacher now, but she’s known Stephen since childhood. “People grow up,” she said. She told the judge Stephen has a huge support system, that if he were to get out, “We’d all be there for him… Even though Stephen’s incarcerated, he’s still my best friend!” And that is when I noticed most of the people on Stephen’s side of the courtroom, including Stephen himself, have started to cry.
When court let out, Stephen’s relatives stream outside.
MH: Everyone needs a smoke after that?
GRANDMA: Yes I do.
Most of them lit cigarettes, including Stephen’s Grandmother June.
MH: You look disappointed.
GRANDMA: I was hoping for a lot shorter but...I don’t know.
Stephen was sentenced to 20 to 50 years in prison. So in 11 more years, he’ll be eligible for parole.
GRANDMA: Better than life.
MH: Yeah. Definitely better than life.
GRANDMA: We were all trying to figure out how old we’ll be when he gets out - I’ll be in my late 70s.
Stephen’s mom, Rhonda, couldn’t decide whether she was relieved or frustrated.
MH: How do you feel after a moment like that?
RHONDA: I know, I felt like he was drawing it out - just tell us already. Not what I wanted, but i’ll take it.
Ashley - that childhood friend who testified - seems happy. When one of Stephen’s cousins says she wishes Stephen were getting out sooner, Ashley jumped in --
FRIEND: He knows what he did. It’s 11 more years - that’s doable - we can DO that.
The guards kept me away from Stephen himself. But as I was walking out of the courtroom, wondering how all of these people felt about another decade of prison visits, I overheard Stephen say to his lawyer: “I deserve it. I deserve it.”
KAI: So that’s what happening with Stephen, but Mary -- what about beyond him? Around the country, how is this playing out?
MH: So it's really really uneven across the country. It really depends on your judge depends on your crime. If you just look at Pennsylvania which is where Steven was. They had about 500 juvenile lifers. And it's taken a lot of time to resentence them they estimate it's going to take at least another two or three years to get through them. And then in Steven's prison they've re sentenced a number of these juvenile lifers. But only one of them has gotten out on the spot. And he had already been in for 40 years. So this isn't really a get out of jail free card.
KAI: What I keep thinking about is what about RJ the guy who actually committed the murder. Does he get this recent thing as well?
MARY: So the answer to that is no because he had just turned 18 when he committed this murder. So he was an adult. He doesn't get access to this resentencing. It really shows that even though the science says one thing our brains don't mature until we're in our 20s how that gets interpreted by the law is really different. That doesn't seem fair to me. Yeah and the thing to remember about cases like Stephens is there are just a few thousand people like him. They're just people who got mandatory life sentences. A teenager can still get a life sentence and people who are being resettled people like Steven some of them are getting those life sentences over again. So this is a really small incremental change. It's a big deal for people like Stephen but the science alone can't shift the culture around how we treat juvenile offenders.
KAI: Coming up we meet a girl in Walla Walla Washington just won't go to school. Seems like that should be a concern for her parents or maybe for a school social worker. But in Washington state that actually gets her sent to detention.
Girl: I. Feel dumb but I went to juvie. And I just I think it's pretty stupid that. They take you to court for not going to school. It's just. Dumb.
KAI: That's next on Caught.
KAI: NEXT UP ON CAUGHT--WE MEET A GIRL IN WALLA WALLA WASHINGTON WHO JUST WON’T GO TO SCHOOL. SEEMS LIKE IT SHOULD BE A CONCERN FOR HER PARENTS, OR MAYBE A SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER. BUT IN WASHINGTON STATE, IT ACTUALLY GOT HER SENT TO DETENTION:
Karen Frillmann is our executive producer.
Jim Schachter is our news director.
And I’m Kai Wright. Thanks for listening.
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