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Virginia Governor Urged to Halt Execution of Juvenile Offender

Human Rights Watch today called on Virginia's governor to grant clemency to prevent an execution scheduled for tomorrow that violates international law.

If it executes Thomas, the state of Virginia will flout international standards forbidding the use of the death penalty on those who were under eighteen years of age at the time of their crimes. Around the world, the law acknowledges that it is unjust to impose death, a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment, for offenses committed by children.

Children are different from adults," said Michael Bochenek, counsel to the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "They don't have an adult's maturity, experience, or judgment. No one should be executed for crimes committed as a minor."

The United States is one of the few countries that defy the worldwide consensus that the death penalty should not be imposed on juvenile offenders. Since 1990, only five other countries—Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—are known to have executed juvenile offenders. The United States has executed nine juvenile offenders in this decade, more than the reported total for any other nation in the world.

Human Rights Watch's letter to Governor Gilmore also expressed concern that Thomas's case was transferred out of the juvenile courts without a full and impartial hearing and that the jury that imposed the death sentence never considered Thomas's developmental immaturity and other important mitigating circumstances.

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