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Columns : Editorial

Childhood's End

The rationale behind the Supreme Court’s recent death penalty ruling could put sociopaths back on the street.

April 01, 2005  |  by - Also by this author

Records show that on Sept. 23, 1997, North Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. Ed Lowry pulled a car with South Carolina plates on I-95 near Fayetteville. The reason for the stop was reported as a seat belt violation, but the real reason was probably just that feeling that some veteran cops get that something just ain't right.

Lowry had no way of knowing it, but the car he had just lit up was a textbook definition of "ain't right." Inside were two brothers: Tilmon Golphin, 18, and Kevin Golphin, 17, both heading back home to Richmond, Va., after a carjacking in Kingstree, S.C.

Court records show that Lowry called in the plate of the suspicious car. Cumberland County Sheriff's Cpl. David Hathcock answered Lowry's call for backup. Then he and Lowry attempted to take the brothers into custody. And that's when things went real bad.

Tilmon Golphin pulled an SKS rifle from the car and opened fire on the officers. The slugs ripped through the officers' ballistic vests, and they lay wounded and helpless on the ground. Kevin, the younger Golphin brother, then snatched Lowry's .40 caliber duty weapon and used it to execute both officers.

Both Golphin brothers were apprehended later that night. They were convicted as cop killers by a North Carolina jury in 1997, and sent to death row in Raleigh's Central Prison.

Tilmon Golphin remains there. But his brother Kevin has now been moved to the general population of North Carolina inmates.

Convicted cop killer Kevin Golphin is one of the beneficiaries of last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared execution of murderers whose crimes occurred before their 18th birthdays to be unconstitutional. At presstime, his new sentence had not been determined.

Last month's Supreme Court ruling is being hailed as a great victory by death penalty opponents. And it's easy to understand why many people who either support or are neutral on capital punishment agree that we shouldn't execute adolescent murderers.

That said, however, it should be noted that the United States was not trundling masses of innocent little moppets into the death chamber prior to the Supremes' ruling. Even for adults, capital punishment is usually reserved for the most heinous of murderers. So imagine what kinds of brutality an adolescent must commit to be sentenced to death row.

I'll spare you the litany, but many of the 72 "kids" affected by last month's decision are not just murderers. They are sociopaths, rapists, torturers, child molesters, and, in the case of Kevin Golphin, cop killers.

The crimes of these monsters are horrifying. Even more horrible is the prospect of letting them back on the street. And that's exactly what may happen.

Some of the states involved don't have a provision for life without parole. So we can only hope the parole boards that will hear these cases will realize that the age of these murderers at the time they committed their crimes is irrelevant. Their childhoods ended when they chose to kill.

And there's an even greater concern about this 5-4 Supreme Court ruling.

In his majority opinion Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that because of "a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility" it cannot be argued that "even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character." Kennedy's opinion and its rationale opens the door for arguments that it is unconstitutional to try juveniles as adults.

Which means, of course, that those 16- and 17- year-old gangbangers who you deal with daily won't hesitate to gun you down. After all, they won't face the needle. And if certain civil libertarians, defense attorneys, and Supreme Court justices have their way, they won't even do hard time.

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