EJI Challenges Death in Prison Sentence Imposed on 14-Year-Old California Child


Shortly after his 13th birthday, Antonio Nunez was riding a bicycle near his home in South Central Los Angeles, California, when he was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting. His brother, who was 14 years old, ran to help Antonio and was shot in the head and killed. Antonio was critically injured and underwent emergency surgery to repair his intestines.

Antonio subsequently developed post-traumatic stress disorder. His mother succumbed to grief and depression, rarely managing to get out of bed; his father’s alcohol abuse worsened; and his siblings required treatment for anxiety and trauma. After he was released from the hospital, Antonio left South Central. He spent over six months with his aunt in Nevada before the probation department required him to return to Los Angeles.

Within weeks of his return to his home in South Central, 14-year-old Antonio got into a car with two older men who picked him up at a party. One of the men later claimed to be a kidnap victim. When their car was chased by the police and shots were fired, Antonio was arrested and charged with, among other offenses, aggravated kidnapping. He was tried in Orange County, California, in a joint trial with the 27-year-old driver.

No one was injured during the chase. Antonio Nunez was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented over 70 cases throughout the United States in which children 14 and younger have been condemned to die in prison, often without consideration of the child’s age or life history. Antonio Nunez is the only child in the country known to be serving a death in prison sentence for his involvement, at age 14, in a single incident where no one was injured.

On April 2, 2007, EJI filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court on behalf of Antonio Nunez to challenge his life without parole sentence as cruel and unusual punishment that violates the United States Constitution, the California Constitution, and California law.