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Case Study: Peter A.
Peter A. was age fifteen both in this
photo and when he committed his crime.
At the time of his crime, Peter A. 4 was a fifteen-year-old sophomore in high school, living at home in Chicago, Illinois with his mother, her fiancé, and his younger brother. He was seven years old when his parents divorced, and he was then raised by his mother, who supported the family through welfare and other public assistance. 5 According to Peter, he was not particularly interested in school, although he enjoyed and did well in his earth science class, which involved a lot of lab work with my hands.6 His probation officer reported him to be an average student. 7
Peter spent much of his time with his older brother, who had his own apartment. Peter said: [My brother] tried to keep me out of trouble . . . my sophomore yearhomecominghe said, theres gonna be trouble, theyre gonna be shooting at the school. You cant go. . . . and they were shooting at the school, he was right. He wouldnt let me go to house parties or nothing. He was trying to keep me out of trouble, but at the same time, he had me along. Peters older brother was involved in drug dealing, mostly cocaine. Peter said he would sometimes act as a courier for his brother, delivering drugs to customers. He also learned how to steal cars at an early age and had a juvenile adjudication for possession of a stolen vehicle when he was thirteen. He was placed on one year of probation and completed it to the satisfaction of his probation officer. He had no prior record of violent crime and no prior felony convictions. 8 He experimented with both alcohol and marijuana, but says he stopped using any drugs or alcohol when he was placed on probation.
Following a theft of drugs and money from his brothers apartment, Peter said that he went with an eighteen-year-old to steal a van to help to get the stolen goods back. Peter says he acted on his brothers instructions, and he
has always admitted his involvement in stealing the van. Peter says he sat in the back seat of the stolen van with another young man, age twenty-one, and the eighteen-year-old driver, both of whom had guns. They drove to the home of the men they were told had robbed Peters brother. No one sat in the front passengers seat, because there was glass on the seat from the window Peter had broken during the theft.
According to Peter, when the three arrived at the victims home, Peter stayed in the stolen van while the other two went inside. Peter heard shots, and a few seconds later one of the co-defendants came running out of the house, without having recovered the drugs or money. The two sped away from the home, leaving the other young man behind. Peter said that he learned on return to his brothers apartment that two people had been shot to death in the botched robbery. A few days later, he found out that one of the victims was a close high school friend of his, a young man who had no involvement in the original robbery of Peters brother. This friend, as Peter put it, was completely innocent . . . just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Peter was arrested approximately one week after the crime, after his two co-defendants were already in custody.
Peter was questioned for a total of eight hours at the police station, without his mother or an attorney present. During this time, he readily admitted to his role in stealing the van. 9 His admission, which the assistant States Attorney wrote down, did not state whether defendant intended to kill the victims.10 Peter explained, Although I was present at the scene, I never shot or killed anyone. There was no physical evidence indicating that Peter had entered the victims home, and one of his co-defendants was proven at trial to have been the triggerman in the crime, for which he was convicted. Peter was convicted of felony murder (two counts), which carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole. He was held accountable for the double murder because it was proved he had stolen the van used to drive to the victims house.
The judge in Peters case found that Peter, without a father at home, had fallen under the influence of his older brother. The judge called Peter a bright lad with rehabilitative potential and stated that he had qualms about sentencing Peter to life without parole. In his decision, he wrote: [T]hat is the sentence that I am mandated by law to impose. If I had my discretion, I would impose another sentence, but that is mandated by law.11 Peters defense attorney told a researcher for this report that one of the other perpetrators of the crime was subsequently
acquitted. So, now you have a fifteen-year-old who was waiting outside with a stolen car doing life without parole and a murderer on the streets.12 Peter, who has already spent nearly half his life behind bars, was twenty-nine years old when he was interviewed for this report in 2005. In prison, has obtained his G.E.D. and completed a correspondence paralegal course, from which he graduated with very good grades. 13 He works as a law clerk in the prison law library and has received one disciplinary ticket in the past six years of his incarceration for possessing an extra pillow and extra cereal in his cell. 14
 Throughout this report, case studies are interspersed to give readers a sense of the actual backgrounds and experiences of youth offenders sentenced to life without parole. The case studies are not intended as illustrations of the issues being addressed in particular chapters.
 Circuit Court of Cook County, Adult Probation Department Pre-Sentencing Investigative Report, July 13, 1994 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (Pre-Sentencing Investigative Report).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Peter A., Stateville Correctional Institution, Joliet, Illinois, April 20, 2005 (pseudonym) (unless otherwise noted, all statements attributed to Peter A. in this case study were obtained during this interview).
 Pre-Sentencing Investigative Report.
 Illinois v. Allen, Order Upon Denial of Rehearing, Hon. Thomas Dwyer, May 14, 1997 (on file with Human Rights Watch).
 Sentencing order of Judge Dennis Dernback, October 23, 2001 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (The statute requires a life without parole sentence for an individual found guilty of first degree murder of more than one victim irrespective of the defendants age, including under a theory of accountability. See Illinois Compiled Statute (ILCS) 5/5-8-1).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dennis Doherty, November 22, 2004.
 Pre-Sentencing Investigative Report; Letter from James W. Fry, President, Blackstone Paralegal Studies, Inc., November 13, 2001 (on file with Human Rights Watch).
 Letter from Peter A. to Human Rights Watch, Stateville Correctional Institution, Joliet, Illinois, March 18, 2004 (pseudonym) (on file with Human Rights Watch).