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Defense argues age a factor in Dansby death penalty decision

December 20, 2018

Human brains continue to mature until at least age 22, a developmental psychologist testified today, and people younger than that can have trouble controlling their actions and thinking about the future effects of those actions. 

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University psychologist, made the comments in a hearing in which an Allen County judge was asked to consider throwing out the death penalty as an option for Marcus Dansby, who is charged with killing four people : including his unborn child : in 2016. 

Dansby, now 23, was 20 years old when he was arrested for the alleged crimes. His lawyers have argued executing someone who was under 21 when they commit crimes violates a constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. 

Steinberg, who said he opposes the death penalty, was among researchers who helped write briefs for the American Psychological Association that were presented before the U.S. Supreme Court in death penalty cases. He said adolescents : defined as ages 10 through at least age 20 : are more impulsive, more short-sighted, focus more on rewards than punishments and are more susceptible to the influence of others. 

Those characteristics shouldn’t excuse behavior, Steinberg said, but they should be taken into account when punishment is considered. 

“This is not about guilt or innocence, it’s about relative culpability,” he said during nearly two hours of testimony in Allen Superior Court. 

Dansby is charged with four counts of murder in the Sept. 11, 2016, slayings in a home on Holton Avenue of Traeven Harris, 18, Consuela Arrington, 37, Dajahiona Arrington, 18, and the fetus she was carrying. Prosecutors filed documents to seek the death penalty last year, and his trial is scheduled April 16. 

mleblanc@jg.net

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