15-year-old boy sentenced to life in prison for murder

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A New Zealand court has sentenced a 15-year-old boy to life in prison for a murder committed when he was 14.

The sentence coincides with a separate legal challenge to the country’s practice of giving life sentences to children, which advocates argue is “harmful and ineffective”. New Zealand sentencing laws currently assume a life sentence for those found guilty of murder, unless it is “manifestly unfair” to do so.

The boy, whose name has been withheld, stabbed 22-year-old Bram Willems in Paihia last year. The attack came after the couple spent an afternoon together, consuming alcohol and marijuana.

Describing the facts of the case in Friday’s high court ruling, Judge Timothy Brewer said the accused got into an argument and stabbed Willems after the victim acted inappropriately towards the teenager’s cousin.

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Media outlet Stuff reported at the hearing that Willems’ mother Christy Lacroix told the court: “You took a life worth living, a life I fought for for 22 years. No excuse could justify taking a life.”

Brewer said life imprisonment was appropriate in this case, despite the young man’s age. He said youth is not an uncommon feature of crimes of serious violence and carries little weight against the public interest. He imposed a minimum non-parole period of 10 years.

Brewer agreed with the Crown prosecutor’s argument that there was no reason to replace the presumptive life sentence with murder, but also said there was no reason to increase the minimum term to 10 years, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Separately, the appeals court is currently considering the cases of three young convicted murderers who have appealed life sentences. The case forms the basis for a broader challenge, asking whether it is “manifestly unfair” to sentence children and youth to life in prison.

Aphiphany Forward-Taua, executive director of criminal justice reform organization JustSpeak, said New Zealand’s murder conviction structure must be reformed to reflect that teenagers and children lack the neurological development of adults.

“Brain development is not fully achieved until age 24,” she said.

“In many of these cases of juvenile offenders, we see a pattern of behavior that, in our opinion, correlates with a lack of neurological development… These young people, unfortunately, make these decisions and often do not anticipate the outcome. ”

Forward-Taua said sentencing, particularly for young offenders, should be focused more on rehabilitation than punishment.

Last year, in a joint statement, the children’s commissioner and psychology and law academics called for an end to life sentences for children, calling them “harmful and ineffective.”

“No child or youth should be sentenced in the adult criminal justice system,” they wrote. “Punishment sentences for adults, such as life imprisonment and minimum periods without parole, should not be available for children and youth.”

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