Accused Cop Killer Argues He’s Too Young For Death Penalty
Attorneys for Luther Bernard Watkins, Jr., the man accused of murdering Tuscaloosa Police Officer Dornell Cousette in September 2019, have filed a motion asking a judge to prohibit him from being sentenced to death because of his age at the time of the killing.
In a motion filed Tuesday, Watkins and his attorney Shelly H. Standridge noted that the alleged cop killer was only 20 years old when he reportedly shot and killed Investigator Cousette as the Tuscaloosa Police officer attempted to serve a warrant on Watkins in west Tuscaloosa.
Standridge cited four Supreme Court cases that prohibit sentencing anyone under 25 to death or to life without parole "with the exception of those few who exhibit irreparable depravity."
Chief among her arguments is Miller v. Alabama, which Standridge says established that "children must have this meaningful opportunity for release even in homicide cases -- except in the rarest of cases where the sentencer determines that the particular child 'exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.'"
Standridge references cases in Washington, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin in which appellate courts cited Miller v. Alabama in decisions to reduce sentences applied to 18- and 19-year-old offenders who faced extremely long terms in prison.
"Recent studies show that certain brain systems and structures, including those involved in self-regulation and higher-order cognition, continue to develop well into the mid-twenties," Standridge argues. "Moreover, research demonstrates that individuals in their late teens and early twenties are less mature than older adults in several ways, including underestimating risk, reduced ability to control impulses and consider future consequences, and social and emotional immaturity."
Finally, Standridge argues that brain science shows that individuals in their late teens and early twenties are in "one of the periods of the most marked neuroplasticity of the brain, suggesting that individuals in this age group have a strong potential for behavioral change."
Since Watkins was only 20 years old when he allegedly killed Investigator Cousette, Standridge argues that he is "more capable of change than are adults, and [his] actions are less likely to evidence of an 'irretrievably depraved character.'"
Standridge asks for special consideration in criminal sentencing and entreats Circuit Judge Brad Almond to prohibit the State of Alabama from seeking the death penalty in the case against Watkins.
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