Christopher Simmons was a disturbed and abused child who committed an awful crime at the age of seventeen. He murdered a woman. His case has major significance to the juvenile justice system. He eliminated the possibility of a juvenile to be sentenced to death. He was sentenced to death row and after multiple appeals and a writ of habeas corpus; his charge was reduced to life in prison without possibility of parole. However, based on the mitigating circumstances of his prior history, the violation of his rights and the ineffective assistance of counsel, his sentence of life in prison does not seem justifiable.
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Christopher Simmons had a plan. His plan was to commit a burglary, primarily. After he and his friends committed the burglary, he would tie the person up and throw them off a bridge. He was sure he would not get caught due to his age; however things did not turn out as planned. Chris intended on burglarizing a “voo-doo man” because he was thought to have a lot of money. However their victim turned out to be Shirley Crook.
It was September 8, 1993 at two in the morning. Chris Simmons, Brian Moomey, and his friend Benjamin went to Shirley’s house. They entered through the back door which was easily opened due to a window being open. As Christopher went throughout the house he went to the bedroom of Shirley Crook. She awoke from bed and Chris recognized her quickly on the account that had gotten into a car accident with prior. Next, Chris went to get duct tape while Benjamin watched over her. Chris then taped Crook’s eyes and mouth. She had also been tied with electric cable, leather straps and duct tape. The boys placed her into a mini-van and drive her to a railroad trestle in Castlewood Park located in St. Louis County. “There, Simmons bound her hands and feet together, hog-tie fashion, with the electrical cable and covered Mrs. Crook’s face completely with duct tape. Simmons then pushed her off the railroad trestle into the river below.” Her body was found the next day and Christopher Simmons was arrested. Her cause of death was known to be drowning. Christopher Simmons was picked up by the cops and questioned, but not properly according to the U.S. Constitution. His rights were violated. He was interrogated without advice of counsel or a guardian. Chris confessed, but not all too willingly. Though, he did cooperate, he was forced to confess. He felt as though he had no choice. He was told he must confess or else he would be facing life in prison or the death penalty otherwise. Little did he know that by confessing he would have to face both those sentences.
The District Attorney offered Chris a pea bargain to life in prison. Chris declined and the case went to trial. There they had shown a video tape reenactment, of the night Crook was murdered, that Chris performed at the crime scene. A witness testimony that came from his friend stating that it was planned and thus proving there was premeditation which makes any crime a first degree. Simmons moved for the trial court to set aside conviction and sentencing for he had ineffective assistance of counsel however the court denied him. The trial went on and in the end the jury came back with the decision that Simmons was guilty of the charges. “The evidence presented was so minimal that at least one member of the jury, that James V. Biundo, a professor at Southeast Missouri State University, was left wondering how it was possible that Simmons, a loving brother and good neighbor, could have participated in such a crime.” The jury recommended that Chris Simmons be sentenced to death row. Chris appealed and filed for a writ of habeas corpus. His defense attorney never brought up his life at home, only that he was a “loving person”
Chris was a product of abuse and a very broken family. His mother and father divorced and re-married. His living situation was with his mother, Cheryl Hayes, and stepfather, Bob Hayes. He did however keep in contact with his father. His parents divorced when he was just a young kid. When his mother got re-married, she married a man that would abuse Chris to the point of insanity. Bob Hayes had two children of his own, both of which were not treated anywhere as badly as Chris had suffered. He was looked at like a slave. During the evaluation by a psychologist during his sentence, Bob Hayes admitted to tying Chris up to tree while he went fishing, intentionally, so he did not have to watch him or worry of him wandering. There was also witness to Chris getting hit in the ear, by his stepfather, so hard that it drew blood and damaged his ear drum. The same witness, Christie Brooks, also confessed that she saw Chris sob due to the torturous treatment of his stepfather (IJP). Chris was disciplined with “whooping’s” and Bob later began to torture Chris about his acne. He would regularly hold him down squeezing all of his pimples until they bled. As for his mother, she felt like a helpless victim as well. She was too afraid to intervene with Bob and Chris and stop the abuse (American Bar Association).
Chris also faced drug and alcohol problems. According to a psychologist, given his environment in which Simmons was raised and his family’s prior generational history of psychiatric illnesses and substance abuse, which is reported by his family, Christopher Simmons was predisposed to developing a psychiatric illness. When Chris was a teen he drank and smoked weed every day. He also did LSD and shrooms. He turned to drugs and alcohol not only because of bad genes but also because of the lack of support from his family and his need for escape. It was a way to reduce his anxiety. The psychological effects on Christopher of growing up in this alcoholic and abusive environment provide mitigating factors which a jury should have had available when asked to consider why a seventeen year old, with no prior history of violence and no criminal record, would commit a murder such as this. All the evidence of substance abuse and physical and mental abuse was never presented by the defense attorney. If it was, Chris may not have had to face such a harsh sentence.
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Simmons consistently appealed his case only to have the death penalty upheld. Chris decided to file for a new petition for post conviction relief. The Missouri Supreme Court said “a national consensus has developed against the execution of juvenile offenders” and therefore was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The state of Missouri appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. When the case was heard in the Supreme Court in 2004, they held that the death penalty to anyone under the age of eighteen would be considered cruel and unusual punishment and thus violates the Eighth Amendment.
Chris has changed since he has been in prison. He is known to be “model prisoner” and he has become part of a religious group in prison. He has also taken part in prevention programs for teens in order to keep them from crimes. In Chris’s own words he says: “I am definitely sorry for all of the suffering I’ve caused people especially the victims, I just wish there was a way to make things right. I wish I could let people know how genuinely I’ve had to deal with it for the eight years I’ve been in prison and had to look in the mirror everyday…I want to continue to help troubled teens, as I once was, and I presently get the opportunity to in a Youth Enlightenment Program that we have here at this prison. I came to death row a messed up, drug addicted, 17-year-old runaway that grew up here in the worst of prison realities. I’ve had to wake up every day facing the pain and suffering I’ve caused others.”
In conclusion, the case of Christopher Simmons has many different turns. It seems to be an unfair story starting with his arrest. His due process rights were violated and so he incriminated himself. That led to a court case that wasn’t handled correctly by the defense. A defense lawyer led to Chris’s sentence on death row. Thankfully, his sentence was overturned and he was sentenced to life in prison due to Supreme Court Case, Roper v. Simmons, where the sentence of a juvenile to death was considered unconstitutional. However Christopher Simmons case should of been appealed, re-tried with a better lawyer and gotten a more lenient sentence to begin with. Because of his abuse and background, he could have gotten help from psychologists and hopefully released from prison to be a functional member of society instead of a functional member of prison.
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