Supreme Court refuses to jump into fight over death sentence for 18-year-old in Alabama | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Supreme Court refuses to jump into fight over death sentence for 18-year-old in Alabama

A man facing execution claimed it was unconstitutional to sentence an 18-year-old to death while not allowing others his age to serve on juries.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court refused to block the Thursday execution of an Alabama man who claims the state unconstitutionally sentenced him to death when he was 18 years old. 

Casey McWhorter asked the justices to pause his Nov. 16 execution to decide if Alabama ran afoul of the Constitution by refusing to provide him with a jury of his peers, since the state's minimum age for jury duty is 19 years old.

The high court denied his stay applications and petitions for certiorari. There were no noted dissents from the order or any explanation for the ruling. 

When McWhorter was barely 18 years old, he shot Edward Lee Williams 11 times, killing him. The murder happened during a home robbery committed by McWhorter and two others, who were 15 and 16 years old respectively. 

After he was hospitalized for a suicide attempt, McWhorter confessed his crime to the police. He says his subsequent death sentence was unconstitutional because Alabama didn't try him before a jury of his peers, since nobody his age would have been old enough to make the jury pool. 

“If 18-year-olds are competent to be tried as adults and subject to capital punishment, there is no rational reason for them to be excluded from state jury service,” wrote Benjamin Rosenberg, an attorney with Dechert who represents McWhorter.

Alabama doesn't give equal treatment to 18-year-olds under the law, McWhorter argued: It considers them juveniles who can't serve on juries, even though 18-year-old criminal defendants can face the adult sentence of capital punishment. 

“By systematically excluding 18-year-olds from jury venires, Alabama deprives criminal defendants of their right under the U.S. Constitution to a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community, and it deprives all 18-year-olds of their right to serve on juries,” Rosenberg wrote. “And if 18-year-olds are juveniles, as Alabama law has deemed, then they should not be eligible for the death penalty.” 

Alabama said the high court’s relief wasn't necessary because McWhorter’s appeal concerned no emergency matter. The state said McWhorter should have raised the constitutional claims in his petition decades ago, not immediately before his execution date. 

“Because he declined to raise those claims at the right time and in the right forum, instead waiting until the eleventh hour to file a time-barred successive habeas petition (directly in the Alabama Supreme Court), McWhorter is not entitled to the equitable remedy of a stay,” wrote James Roy Houts, Alabama assistant attorney general.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to pause McWhorter’s execution came two hours after his execution window began. Alabama will have until Friday morning to carry out his death sentence. 

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Criminal

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