It seemed too bizarre to be anything but apocryphal, but, hey, I heard it on NPR: William Poole, a high school junior from Kentucky, was taken into custody and charged with threatening to commit second-degree-felony terrorism for writing a story about a horde of zombies who wreak havoc in a school. It seems the boy’s grandparents had been reading his journal, found a story he’d been writing for English class and promptly turned him in. According to a police detective, “Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function, it’s a felony in the state of Kentucky.” Based on that kind of reasoning, a judge raised Poole’s bond from $1,000 to $5,000 after prosecutors requested it, citing the seriousness of the charge.
I can’t imagine what was going on in the hearts and minds of Poole’s grandparents–are they the sort who would burn copies of Harry Potter? Do they harbor some religiously based objection to zombies, akin to witchcraft? How great must be their fear, and how little their love! But however subjective or obscure the motives of the grandparents, it does seem to me that the detective and prosecutor are the kind of strict textualists upon whom the “war on terror” has showered foolish amounts of power. “My story is based on fiction,” said Poole; but in Clark County, Kentucky, the law is the word. Last heard, he was dispatched to jail to await mercy and a sense of perspective. Let’s hope his grandparents don’t find any scribblings about manga demons, or he’ll be in there for life.
Oh well. At least Poole will be relieved to learn that the Supreme Court recently banned execution of juvenile offenders. In Roper v. Simmons, Justice Kennedy, writing for a 5-to-4 majority, cited recent neurological and sociological studies establishing that the overwhelming majority of those under 18 are not developmentally mature enough to be swayed by the incentives of either retribution or deterrence, the two stated justifications for the death penalty. Kennedy’s opinion also cited an international consensus against executing juveniles–noting “the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty.”
But given the likely shift with even a single new Bush appointee to the Court, Mr. Poole would do well to heed the dissent in Roper, written by Justice Scalia and joined by Bush’s two other favorite models for the future, Thomas and Rehnquist. (Justice O’Connor, true to her role as straddler extraordinaire, wrote a separate dissent arguing that some juveniles were mature enough to be executed, some not, and that it should be decided on a case-by-case basis.) Scalia, who once stated that the death penalty is no big deal to practicing Christians who believe in an afterlife, angrily denounced the majority for taking “guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures.” Although the majority also cited the fact that thirty states have banned such executions and that it is exceedingly rare in the remaining twenty, Justice Scalia complained that “because I do not believe that the meaning of our Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution…should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court and like-minded foreigners, I dissent.”