Supreme Court won’t consider expanding juvenile death ban

FILE - This photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows Michael Brandon Samra. His attorney has asked the governor to halt his Thursday, May 16, 2019 lethal injection while a Kentucky court weighs the appropriateness of the death penalty for people who were under 21 at the time of their crimes. Samra was 19 when he participated in the 1997 slayings in Shelby County of four people, including two children. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Tuesday to consider extending its ban on executing juvenile offenders to people who were as old as 20 when they committed their crimes.

The justices also denied a stay of execution for Michael Brandon Samra, who is scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Thursday at a south Alabama prison for participating in a quadruple murder at the age of 19.

The Supreme Court bans executing inmates who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes. Samra’s attorneys asked the justices to consider expanding their ban to include 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. They declined without comment to review the case.

Samra was convicted of helping friend Mark Duke kill his father Randy Duke, the father’s girlfriend Dedra Mims Hunt, and her 6- and 7-year-old daughters, Chelisa and Chelsea, in Shelby County in 1997.

A state summary of the case says Mark Duke instigated the plot because his father refused to lend him a pickup truck. It says Duke killed his father, Hunt and Chelisa, while Samra slit Chelsea’s throat at his friend’s direction as the girl pleaded for her life.

Duke’s death sentence was reversed because he was 16.

The Alabama attorney general’s office opposed Samra’s request for a stay, saying the U.S. Supreme Court has imposed a “bright line” at age 18 for eligibility for the death penalty, and state and federal appellate court have consistently refused to extend the ban beyond the age of 17. State attorneys said the two teens entered the home with a plan to kill everyone in the house.

Samra’s attorney, Steven R. Sears, also has asked Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey for a temporary reprieve, saying there is growing concern about the appropriateness of the death penalty for offenders under 21 years old given the science on brain development and maturity.

A Kentucky judge in 2017 ruled in an unrelated case that the death penalty is unconstitutional for defendants younger than 21; Sears asked Ivey for a reprieve until the Kentucky Supreme Court decides that appeal.

Sears also argued in the clemency petition that Duke was the more culpable defendant, writing that Samra’s “culpability paled in comparison to that of Mark Duke, who plotted, planned and killed three of the victims, including his own father, for revenge.”