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Death Penalty for Underage Inmates

Teens who kill before age 18 would not face the death penalty under legislation moving through the state Legislature. The bill cleared the Senate Tuesday, but time is running out for the House to take up the measure.

Florida first used the electric chair in 1924. At the time age records weren't keep, but the first age listed on the corrections website shows a Gainesville 16-year-old was executed in 1927.

Wednesday, four people are under death sentences for killing before they turned 18.

Juan Melendez, who spent 17 years on death row, says the 17-year-olds that arrived while he was there were nothing more than scared kids.

Now legislation has cleared the senate that would take the four teen killers off of death row and prohibit death sentences for anyone under18. It is supported by law and order Sen. Rod Smith.

"If you are under 18 under the law you are a child. I don't believe in executing children," Rod Smith, (D) Gainesville.

But the bill is stuck in the House and the problem is time.

"There are big dollars, big public policy issues facing the legislature as it enters the last 48 hours and with every tick of the clock the death penalty bill becomes less likely."

Jeb Bush supports the prohibition.

"The issue becomes more significant when you are talking about children who are 12 years old or 13 years old. Those are the ones that have generated all the attention and there clearly I think that there needs to be a different standard," says Gov. Jeb Bush.

Time is still the enemy of the legislation, but for the four who killed before they were 18, there may still be hope in a governor reluctant to see juveniles executed. No one who committed a crime under the age of 18 has been executed here since the state resumed executions in 1979.


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