Teens Behind Bars

Evan Miller and More Juveniles Sentenced to Life in Prison Without Parole (PHOTOS)

The Supreme Court ruled this week that a mandatory life sentence without parole is unconstitutional for juveniles. See the subject of that decision, 14-year-old Evan Miller, and other offenders who are likely to be affected by the court’s ruling.

AP Photo

AP Photo

The Supreme Court ruled this week that a mandatory life sentence without parole is unconstitutional for juveniles. See the subject of that decision, 14-year-old Evan Miller, and other offenders who are likely to be affected by the court’s ruling.

Clyde Stancil, The Decatur Daily / AP Photo

Evan Miller

Evan Miller was a troubled youth who had been in and out of foster homes. At age of 14, Miller, along with another teen beat Cole Cannon, stole his baseball cards, set his home on fire and then left him to die. In 2006, Miller was sentenced to life in prison without parole, despite the mitigating circumstances of his difficult upbringing. Miller, who had drug problems and been diagnosed with personality disorders, had tried to commit suicide several times. His sister, Aubrey, described their youth as plagued by poverty, neglect, and abuse.  “There are a lot of people responsible for a 14-year-old committing murder,” said Aubrey, “It started when he was born…no one had taught him to think. We were not taught respect and honesty.”


Florida Dept. of Corrections

Dominic Culpepper

Dominic Culpepper was sentenced to life in prison without parole at age 15 for beating a boy to death with a baseball bat. In 2001, Culpepper stole a pound of marijuana and sold nearly half of it before 16-year-old Wesley McCool allegedly stole it from him. According to testimony, Culpepper found two other boys to help him lure McCool into his home, where Culpepper hit him with a baseball bat roughly 15 times. Since his sentencing, Culpepper, now 25, has been baptized in his juvenile detention facility, leads a Bible study class, received his GED, and is a teacher’s aide at a correctional Institute.

Trina Garnett

Growing up, Trina Garnett was referred to as a “slow” child because she had a low IQ and could not read or write. Garnett lost her mother at an early age, and her father was a violent alcoholic. In August of 1976, she was arrested for setting fire to a house in which two teenage boys died. She originally was deemed unfit for trial, but eventually was tried as an adult. She also had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Garnett was sentenced to two life terms plus up to 40 years in prison. Soon after she received her sentence, she was raped by a guard and later gave birth to his child. 

Colorado Dept. of Corrections

Nathan Ybanez and Erik Jensen

Nathan Ybanez grew up with a strict Evangelical mother, Julie, and a father with a violent temper. By the time Ybanez was 14, his family had had 30 different addresses. While he feared his father’s temper, it was his mother’s unstableness that he dreaded the most. She eventually began sexually abusing him. Ybanez soon befriended Erik Jensen, whose family suspected problems at home and called social services—which never investigated. Ybanez turned to drugs and alcohol, and his mother threatened to send him to a Christian boot camp. It’s not entirely clear exactly how it went down, but 16-year-old Ybanez beat and suffocated his mother. Jensen, who was 17 at the time, saw part of it. Both were convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Terrance Graham

When Terrance Graham was 16, he pleaded guilty to attempted robbery of a restaurant in which his accomplice hit the manager with a pipe, and served one year in jail. Six months later, while on probation, Graham was again arrested for fleeing the scene of a home robbery while also armed. Although the Department of Corrections suggested a four-year prison sentence, a judge sentenced Graham to life in prison without parole stating, “If I can’t do anything to help you, then I have to…protect the community from your actions.”  Graham’s case was not heard in front of a jury. Although Graham has repeatedly tried to appeal his sentence, this may be the first time he has a viable chance at parole.

Ashley Smith, Times-News / AP Photo

Sarah Johnson

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Johnson was sentenced in 2005 to life in prison without the chance of parole for shooting her parents with a rifle. The local sheriff said Johnson had been worried that her parents would report her undocumented boyfriend to police. She asked the judge for leniency, but he gave her two life sentences and an extra 15 years for using a rifle. “You’re not trying to truly seek rehabilitation,” Judge Barry Wood said. “What you’re trying to do is get off.”


Kuntrell Jackson

In 1999, Kuntrell Jackson was in Arkansas with a group of teens when an attempted robbery of a video went bad. Jackson’s lawyer tried to argue that he was outside the store when one of the others shot and killed the store clerk. However, prosecutors argued Jackson, who was 14 at the time, was inside and confronted the clerk, saying “We ain’t playin.’” He was tried as an adult for capital murder and received a mandatory life sentence.

Michigan Dept. of Corrections

Mark Gonzalez, Ryan Kendrick, Michael Worden

Mark Gonzalez, 16, Ryan Kendrick, 17, and Michael Worden, 16, were sentenced to life in prison for beating Mark Harris, a 34-year-old homeless man, to death in July 1999. They were angry with him for trying to cheat them out of a dollar after he bought them beer.


Charles Lewis, Jr.

When he was 13, Charles Lewis, Jr., took part in an attempted kidnapping of a Lansing woman that led to her killing. She was 19. Lewis was just a few days away from his 14th birthday. He was convicted of first-degree murder, given a delayed sentence, and sent to a juvenile detention center. He will learn the full extent of his punishment when he turns 21, but now because of the Supreme Court ruling he can’t be automatically sentenced to life without parole.