Illinois justices weigh harshness of 19-year-old’s life term

SPRINGFIELD, iLL. — A state prosecutor told the Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday that a man who was 19 when he participated in a double murder in 1993 shouldn’t be able to claim his life sentence was unfair because he was armed and aware of the plot to kidnap and punish rival gang members.

Antonio House maintains that he was a young lookout “some distance away” away during the gang-revenge slayings in Chicago and was therefore improperly sentenced to life for the murders and two consecutive 30-year terms for kidnapping.

House has been appealing the case since 2001. He’s attempting to expand the age limit for imposing life-without-parole sentences on young offenders amid mounting research that shows the brain is still developing key decision-making functions well past the age of 20.

House is relying on a 2002 Illinois Supreme Court case that overturned a life sentence for 15-year-old Leon Miller, who stood lookout during a 1997 gang confrontation but fled the scene when he heard gunshots.

An appellate court agreed with House, pushing the matter to the high court. Assistant Attorney General Gopi Kashyap sought Tuesday to draw a bright distinction between the two cases.

House accompanied his gang leader, Artez “Ted” Thigpen, and others on Sept. 13, 1993, to kidnap 15- and 18-year-old men selling drugs at a Chicago street corner after a factional split of the Unknown Vice Lords. Unlike the younger Miller, House armed himself and helped force the interlopers into Thigpen’s car, Kashyap said.

“Ted remarked that the victims ‘were about to make the make the news’ and defendant admitted that he knew that the victims might be shot,” Kashyap said. “Nevertheless, he drove two miles to the location where the victims had been taken to a junkyard, and once he got there…, confirmed whether the victims were in the junkyard with the members who were shooting them, parked his car and he acted as a lookout.”

Moreover, a month later, House approached a witness and intimidated her into recanting her statement to authorities, court documents show.

Lauren Bauser, an assistant state appellate defender, noted the “evolving” standards in courts and legislatures regarding young offenders, ensuring that their prison sentences are proportionate to their culpability and their amenability to rehabilitation.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 began moved toward leniency for juvenile offenders. It first eliminated the death penalty, then prohibited life in prison except in cases of murder, and finally allowed life sentences only in cases where a juvenile is found incapable of rehabilitation. However, the court, which has become more conservative with recent additions, last month curbed the “permanently incorrigible” standard’s application.

Illinois lawmakers in recent years have applied to defendants aged 18 to 21 some of the protections earlier afforded to juveniles because of the emerging research, Bauser said.

“The record in this case demonstrates that Antonio’s mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed as a teenager, as a teenage lookout who wasn’t even present at the time of the killing, shocks the conscience,” Bauser said.


The case is People v. House:

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