The Mississippi Supreme Court granted review to determine whether it is unconstitutional to sentence a 13-year-old child to life in prison without possibility of parole, and to address claims that Demarious Banyard’s conviction was tainted by racial bias and illegal jury instructions. EJI represents Demarious and, in December, EJI attorneys asked the state’s highest court to review the case, which raises serious constitutional questions about the reliability of Demarious’s conviction and sentence.
Thirteen-year-old Demarious was playing basketball at the Jackson, Mississippi, apartment complex where he lived with his mother and sisters when 19-year-old Dennis Ragsdale confronted him, put a gun into his hand, and walked him over to the car of a pizza delivery man who Ragsdale intended to rob. When the driver did not give over money as Ragsdale demanded, Demarious handed the gun back to Ragsdale and it went off, fatally shooting the driver.
Demarious was convicted in adult court and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Because the sentence was mandatory, the judge could not consider Demarious’s extremely young age, hear any mitigating evidence about his background, or consider that Dennis Ragsdale – an adult who had beaten Demarious –instigated the offense, forced Demarious to participate, and nonetheless was sentenced to a parole-eligible term.
Demarious is the only 13-year-old in Mississippi sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, and only eight other people in the world are condemned to die in prison for a crime at age 13. All but one of the nine 13-year-olds are children of color.
One of the nine is Joe Sullivan, an EJI client whose case challenging life-without-parole sentences imposed on young teens is pending before the United States Supreme Court.
EJI lawyers have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to review Demarious’s conviction, which was tainted by racial bias and illegal jury instructions. During jury selection for his trial, the State insisted, and the judge agreed, that a certain number of white people remain on the jury.