The Associated Press, April 8, 1998

Texas Rep. Jim Pitts hopes to protect condemned 11-year-olds awaiting execution from contact with hardened criminals
By Peggy Fikac, AP Writer

AUSTIN (AP) -- A state lawmaker who proposes allowing 11-year-olds to be sentenced to death for capital murder said Wednesday those bound for execution should be held in juvenile facilities until the sentence would be carried out -- at age 17.

"In no way do I want an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old kid in a TDC (Texas Department of Corrections) facility, even if they're waiting for death row," said Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. TDC is the former name for the adult prison system.

Pitts said he was concerned about children being placed in a facility with adult "hardened criminals."

"I don't want them to be taken advantage of," he said, and suggested, "Maybe we ought to have some type of facility like death row" for such juveniles.

Pitts, who made the proposal concerning capital murder in the wake of the Jonesboro, Ark. schoolyard shootings, stressed that he would expect an execution to be sought only rarely for young defendants.

He emphasized the idea simply would be an option for local prosecutors and judges.

Under his proposal, someone as young as 11 who is convicted of capital murder could face either life without parole or the death penalty.

Since he made the proposal Monday as part of a juvenile crime package, Pitts said his office had received hundreds of telephone calls, with about 60 percent in favor and 40 percent against.

Gov. George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, has said he won't back the idea.

Under current law, someone can be sentenced to death for a crime committed at age 16, but the execution isn't carried out until the person is at least 17, according to the attorney general's office.

Pitts on Monday had said he would look at whether such a delay should be built into his proposal, adding that appeals likely would take that long, anyway.

On Wednesday, Pitts said, "I think that a small child needs to answer to their crime, but I think the actual putting to death should take place as the current law says.

"I've had a little time to think about it. I've had a lot of calls I was putting people to death at age 11. That is not my intention," he said.

Pitts added, "I want every appeal process ... to take place before this child would be put to death."

Pitts, who plans to introduce the juvenile crime package when lawmakers meets in regular session in January, said he would continue to refine it.

"That's why I put the proposal out there, so I could get some comment," he said. "I think the basic plan is going to stay. There's going to be probably some expanding of it."

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