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Cruel and Unusual? The answer is yes... and no.

By Scott Tibbs, April 30, 2012

Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson are serving life in prison for crimes they committed when they were 14. That is where the similarities end, because the two cases are very different. It is immoral to lump the two cases together.

Jackson and two friends decided to rob a video store in 1999. When the other two teens went into the store, Jackson stood outside the door. One of Jackson's accomplices shot and murdered a store clerk, and the three teens fled. Jackson did not kill anyone, nor was he in the store when the shooting took place. Despite this, he is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Is it cruel and unusual for Jackson to spend his entire life behind bars? That is a reasonable question, especially given the nature of his crime and his age at the time. And while I am reluctant to raise this issue because it is so often cynically exploited by hustlers and con men, it is legitimate to ask whether Jackson's race played a part in his life sentence. He is black. If Jackson was white, would he have gotten a lesser punishment?

While Jackson was a lookout during a robbery, the crime committed by Evan Miller is completely different. Miller and a 16-year-old friend used a baseball bat to brutally beat 52-year-old Cole Cannon during a robbery. To hide the evidence of the beating and robbery, they set his trailer on fire and left him to die - ignoring him as pleaded for help and mercy. It was a cold-blooded act. Miller committed an incredibly brutal and shockingly cruel murder.

The Supreme Court is now considering both cases, and questioning whether is is "cruel and unusual" to send teens to prison for life without the possibility of parole. The cases should not be lumped together because the crimes are radically different. Serving as a lookout for a robbery gone bad is not in the same galaxy as brutally beating a man and leaving him to die in a fire you set, much less the same ballpark.

In Genesis 9:6, God commands that whoever sheds man's blood is to be executed, because man is made in the image of God. Nonetheless, I can understand why society would spare Miller's life on compassionate grounds. After all, he was subjected to terrible abuse at the hands of his so-called "father" and his so-called "mother" was a drug addict. He tried to kill himself several times to escape the abuse.

But while compassion and mercy may be appropriate in sparing Miller the death penalty, society also has rights that should be protected. Specifically, innocent people should have the right to live without fear that a depraved murderer is on the loose after being freed by the justice system. Setting Miller free could be a death sentence for an innocent person, and that is not just bad policy - it is evil.

It is intellectually dishonest and borders on racist to lump the cases of Jackson and Miller together, and the Supreme Court should decide whether each man's punishment is "cruel and unusual" based on the facts of each case, not based on a general principle. The Supreme Court needs to consider the rights of society and the commandment of God to defend the weak and helpless. (Psalm 82:2-4.)

The solution should be fairly obvious. Sending a 14-year-old to prison for life because he served as a lookout during a robbery is cruel and unusual. Jackson's punishment should be struck down. What Miller did to Cannon was cruel and unusual, but protecting society from Miller is not cruel or unusual.