Life terms for teens are unjust, lawyer says

By Jeff Eckhoff

The lawyer for a 31-year-old woman serving life in prison for a murder she committed as a teen called Tuesday on the Iowa Supreme Court to treat children differently under the state’s sentencing laws.

“It is our position that a judgment that there is no distinction between a child of 14 and an adult” is improper, said attorney Brian Stevenson of Equal Justice Initiatives, an Alabama-based juvenile-advocate group. “To say to any child of 14 that ‘you’re only fit to die in prison’ is cruel and unusual.”

A state lawyer countered that some crimes deserve an absolute punishment regardless of age.

“I think we all agree that we don’t want this to happen to a typical 14-year-old,” Assistant Iowa Attorney General Thomas Andrews told the justices. “But Ruthann Veal is not a typical 14-year-old.”

Veal was a heavily abused child whom Andrews described as “a violent recidivist.” Court records say she was 14 years and 11 months old in June 1993 when she fled from a juvenile group home, entered the Waterloo home of Catherine Haynes, 66, grabbed a kitchen knife and attacked her.

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