EJI lawyers have filed a brief in the Mississippi Court of Appeals challenging the conviction and life sentence imposed on Dante Evans, who had just turned 14 years old when he was accused of murder. EJI argues that serious constitutional errors at Dante’s trial, including the removal from his jury of people who would consider Dante’s young age, require that his conviction and mandatory life sentence be overturned.
Dante Evans grew up in a violent and chaotic household where his father brutally abused him and his mother, including nearly drowning her in a bathtub in front of her children. Dante was profoundly affected by the violence he experienced and witnessed: at seven or eight, he was hospitalized for depression and diagnosed with a chronic trauma disorder; and at 10 or 11, he was sent to the hospital because he was suicidal. His parents permanently separated after his father tried to run his mother over with his car.
In early 2007, Dante was sent to live alone with his father in Mississippi. His father repeatedly beat and threatened to kill him. When Dante asked school officials for help, they told Dante’s father and then sent Dante home with him. When they got home, Dante’s father choked him, hit him with a chain, pushed him against a trailer, cursed at him, said he wanted to kill him, and temporarily kicked him out of the house.
After trying and failing to get help from school officials, Dante started sleeping with a gun under his bed for protection from his father. In April 2007, Dante’s father was found dead from a gunshot. Dante told police that he was playing with the gun and it went off when he lightly tapped the trigger. He was arrested and charged with murder. Dante had just turned fourteen and had no criminal history.
Dante was automatically tried as an adult. At trial, jurors were not allowed to consider Dante’s young age or allowed to hear important testimony about the abuse he suffered. EJI argues in its appeals brief that the trial judge mistakenly refused to let the jury decide whether Dante acted in self-defense, because he believed that he was in great danger from his father.
Dante was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment, without any consideration of his age or background of abuse and trauma. He is one of only a small group of 14-year-old children to be sentenced to life imprisonment. EJI believes such sentences are cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Constitution.