A bill to change the way juvenile killers are sentenced is on its way to the governor’s desk. But not without controversy.
Senate Bill 1221 would put sentencing for teen killers in the hands of a judge, not the jury that convicted them. It sounds simple enough, but there’s a very complex legal reason for the decision.
“I’m here to stand up for the victims. The victims guys,” said Senator Paul Scott (R) Duncan.
But opponents of the bill say it was rushed through the legislature with changes made just days ago.
The reason is Tucker McGee, who in prison for murdering JaRay Wilson in 2012, just days before his 18th birthday. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but that sentence could be changed under a recent supreme court ruling that said life without parole should only be for underage killers who can’t be rehabilitated.
The bill passed Wednesday in the state Senate would require judges to determine sentencing based on a number of factors including the underage killers’ maturity, psych tests, and take jury’s out of the sentencing equation.
But some lawmakers cried foul.
“We are going to circumvent an Americans right to equal protection under the law because the kid is 17 years old not 21,” said Senator AJ Griffin (R) Guthrie.
Senator Kay Floyd (D) Oklahoma City added, “We don’t need fast changes in five legislative days with no attorneys laying eyes on it in either one of the judiciary committees.”
Senator Paul Scott (R) Duncan replied, “If there’s something wrong with this bill, if there’s something that we need to do differently to it than we can always fix that.”
After an impassioned debate the measure passed.
“It’s disrespectful to the citizens of this state that elected us and put us here in order to do our job. If an adult deserves a jury a kid deserves a jury,” Senator Griffin said.