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Argument on death penalty criticized

January 1, 2019

Allen County prosecutors want a judge to reject claims by a man facing the death penalty that he shouldn’t be executed because of his age.

Marcus Dansby was 20 years old : 12 days shy of his 21st birthday : when he allegedly killed four people, including his unborn child, Sept. 11, 2016. Now 23, he has argued through his lawyers that executing people who were younger than 21 at the time of their alleged crimes violates the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to put to death offenders who were 18 at the time they committed the crimes. Dansby’s lawyers want to extend the age to 21, asking a judge to throw out the death penalty as a sentencing option because of growing research on the maturity of young people’s brains and a “national consensus” against executing defendants younger than 21.

Deputy Prosecutors Tom Chaille, Jeff Steinberg and Alison Yeager state in court documents filed Monday that arguments by defense attorneys Robert Gevers and Michelle Kraus failed on both counts.

″(Dansby) has not shown any judicial or legislative movement to specifically exclude the defendant’s proposed age group from death penalty eligibility,” the 18-page filing states. “The defendant has failed to identify a national consensus.”

Similar efforts to extend the high court’s landmark 2005 ruling to defendants younger than 21 have failed on appeal, and Dansby hasn’t identified any states that have shielded people older than 18 from capital punishment, prosecutors argue.

The objection from prosecutors comes after a Temple University psychology professor testified last month in this case that human brains continue to mature until at least age 22 and that young people can have trouble controlling their actions and considering the consequences of those actions.

Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull has not ruled on Dansby’s motion to exclude the death penalty or a separate request to declare Indiana’s capital punishment law unconstitutional.

mleblanc@jg.net

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