It seems juveniles are being tried as adults at increasing rates, in spite of widely accepted science telling us that the human brain – specifically the prefrontal cortex responsible for planning, impulse control and predicting consequences – doesn’t finish its development until around age 25. And although the execution of juveniles has been prohibited by various international treaties for some time, the United States was actually one of the last nations to officially ban the practice. Not until 2005’s Roper v. Simmons did the U.S. Supreme Court determine the execution of juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.
Most people would more closely associate the execution of juveniles with nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In fact, under Sharia Law – the generally illegal but still commonly-practiced religious laws based on the Islamic Koran – a “man” as young as 14 years, 5 months may be executed for a crime, while a “woman” as young as 8 years, 8 months may receive a capital sentence. According to the Organization of Women Against Execution, Iran’s Islamic regime executed 187 juvenile females between 1981 and 1990, including nine girls between the ages of 10 and 13. And in undeveloped countries that lack a birth registry, an offender may find it difficult to prove their juvenile status.
But the western world actually shares a long history of sentencing children to death, as well. There have been multiple instances of children receiving the death penalty since America was colonized, following the lead of its mother England that once executed an 8-year-old boy convicted of arson and a 7-year-old for petty theft. The earliest recorded execution of an American juvenile occurred in 1642, when 16-year-old Thomas Granger of Plymouth Colony was hanged after he was discovered to have had sexual encounters with a cow, a mare, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey. Between Granger’s execution and 1972, the United States executed 344 juveniles, including at least 39 between the ages of 10 and 15 at the time of their crimes.
Here are 10 of the Youngest Children Sentenced to Death.
10. Hena Akhter, Age 14 – Killed For Being Raped
Villagers in Bangladesh’s Shariaptur district convicted the young teenager of adultery in 2011, claiming Hena was guilty of having an affair with a married man; although her family insisted she was raped by the man in question. She was sentenced to 101 lashes to be delivered in public.
Although not a death sentence, the lashes were more than the child could withstand, and she collapsed after the first 70, dying in a hospital a week later. She proclaimed her innocence until the bitter end. Strangely enough, according to her initial autopsy report, Hena suffered no injuries and her death was deemed a suicide.
9. Michael and Ann Hammond, Ages 7 and 11 – Stole Loaf Of Bread
Some juvenile death sentences are nothing more than unnecessary brutality no matter who you talk to. Considered to be the youngest person ever executed in Great Britain, Michael Hammond was just 7 years old when he and his sister were hanged in 1708.
Their crime? Stealing a loaf of bread. The execution was noted in author William Richards’ “The History of Lynn,” where it was called “unusual and excessive rigor on the part of the magistrates in the infliction of capital punishment.”
8. John Dean, Age 8 – Set Fire To Barns
Described in court documents as “an infant between eight and nine years,” John Dean was executed for arson in 1629 England. Dean was convicted of setting fire to two barns in the town of Windsor and was ultimately hanged. Not only was the young age of the felon significant, also noteworthy was his one-day indictment, arraignment, trial and conviction – even though records make no mention of the fires causing any death or injury. Sadly for John, the judge found the child had acted with “malice, revenge, craft and cunning.” England’s law of the time established the age of criminal responsibility was just 7 years old. Eventually, that age was raised to 8, where it remained until 1963 when it was raised to 10.
7. Hannah Ocuish, Age 12 – Youngest Executed In America
The youngest girl to be executed in America was Hannah Ocuish, a 12-year-old of the Pequot tribe who was hanged in 1786 after she murdered another child. Now believed to have been mentally impaired, Hannah was accused of killing the young daughter of a prominent white family after arguing with her over strawberries. At a young age, Hannah’s mother sent Hannah to live in a white family’s New London, Conn. home, although other accounts purport she was arrested, along with her brother, for assaulting and robbing another child and sentenced to indentured servitude. When young Eunice Bolles’ body was discovered on the side of the road, investigators questioned Hannah, who denied involvement in the murder. Eventually, the investigators carried her to the house where the body laid, where Hannah reportedly burst into tears, confessing to the crime. The court determined the murder was an act of revenge after Eunice complained that Hannah had taken away her strawberries.
6. Giovanni di Giovanni, Age 15 – Executed For Being Gay
Little is known about Giovanni Di Giovanni. Believed to be the youngest person ever executed for being gay, Giovanni lived in 12th-century Italy. At just 15, the boy was charged with being “a public and notorious passive sodomite.”
As punishment, Giovanni was paraded on an ass to the “place of justice” past the Franciscan basilica of Santa Croce, where he was publicly castrated. He was ultimately mutilated in his nether region with a red-hot iron and died.
5. Alice Glaston, Age 11 – Crime Unknown
English common law provided for the execution of prisoners as young as 7. Alice is likely the youngest English girl to be executed when she was hanged in 1545 at the age of 11. Little is known about Alice Gaston and her execution.
While her burial was noted by Sir Thomas Butler, vicar of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, her actual crime has been lost to history. In October 2014, writer Paul Evans released “The Spirit Child,” a speculative supernatural radio play fictionalizing the events leading to her execution, according to Wikipedia.
4. Mary, Age 13 – Slave Executed For Murder Of Master’s Child
Mary, a 13-year-old Missouri slave, was hanged in 1838 after she was convicted of killing a two-year-old white child. After he inherited Mary, owner John Abraham assigned her to babysit his daughter, Vienna Jane. Although Mary was described as “remarkably fond of children,” she was accused of murder when Vienna Jane’s body was found in a nearby stream. It was soon determined the child had been struck on the head and thrown into the water, where she drowned.
Mary confessed to the murder, but only after she was tied to a log and interrogated by the sheriff, who threatened to whip her. Mary was tried for murder, and the judge took note of her young age, advising the jury unless it could find evidence that the young slave had “sufficient mind to know what act would be a crime or otherwise, they shall find for the defendant.” Of course, being 1838 and Missouri, the jury ruled against her and sentenced the child to death.
3. James Arcene, Age 10 – Crushed The Skull Of Swedish Settler
Cherokee James Arcene was hanged in 1885 Arkansas for a crime committed when he was just 10 years old. The crime actually took place in 1872 when James and William Parchmeal, a Cherokee man, shot a Swedish settler six times, crushed his skull with a rock and stole his boots and money, valued at about 25 cents – almost $5 by today’s standards. While the two were arrested and convicted of the murder and robbery, they escaped, avoiding capture for 13 years. Once they were caught, however, justice was carried out swiftly.
2. Fortune Ferguson, Age 13 – Rapist Sentenced To Death
Before 1977’s Coker v. Georgia decision, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty to be “excessive punishment” for the crime of rape and hence unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, convicted rapists were rather commonly executed, including 13-year-old Fortune Ferguson in 1927. The youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century, Ferguson, an African-American child from Florida, was charged with and convicted of raping an 8-year-old in 1925. He was later electrocuted.
1. George Stinney Jr., Age 14 – Electrocuted For Murder
In 1944, 14-year-old George Stinney Jr., an African-American child from South Carolina, was sentenced to death for killing two young girls. He was accused of the murder after the girls’ bodies were discovered, having violently been beaten to death with a railroad spike. Stinney had been seen the prior day picking flowers with the victims. Only after police separated the child from his parents and heavily interrogated him did the teen admit to the crime. An unfortunate sign of the times, he was found guilty by an all-male, all-white jury after a trial of less than a day and just 10 minutes of deliberation.
He was denied an appeal and sentenced to die by electrocution. At the time of his execution, witnesses noted that Stinney’s small stature required him to sit on a phone book to fit in the electric chair. Unbelievably, his conviction was overturned in late 2014 when Judge Carmen Mullins ruled the boy was not properly defended by his attorney, and his confession was likely coerced by police, citing the total lack of physical evidence and an alibi. Mullins also labeled the execution of a 14-year-old boy as cruel and unusual punishment. Unfortunately for Stinney and his family, her ruling was 70 years too late.