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State Supreme Court rules juveniles can be given life sentences

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news Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

The Wisconsin Supreme Court said it was okay to make a 16-year-old boy spend the rest of his life in prison, for helping throw another teen off a parking ramp and killing him.

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Omer Ninham was 14 when he and four other boys chased 13-year-old Zong Vang to the top floor of a Green Bay parking ramp in 1998. Ninham and 13-year-old Richard Crapeau threw Vang to the ground. Crapeau was also sentenced to life in prison, but he's eligible for a supervised release in 39 more years. Ninham was not given that option - and the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama tried in vain to convince Wisconsin judges that the sentence was too harsh. Since his sentence in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court found life-without-parole to be cruel-and-unusual punishment for crimes short of homicide. The Alabama group tried to extend that to murder cases - and the Wisconsin Council on Children-and-Families contended that the brain development of young teens makes them less able to weigh the consequences of their actions.

But in today's ruling, Justice Annette Ziegler disagreed. Writing for the majority, she said Ninham's punishment was severe, but quote, "not disproportionately so." Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley dissented. Ninham's lawyer has not responded to the verdict. State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he hoped the ruling would provide a "small measure of relief" to Vang's family. He called the decision "difficult, but correct."

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