Retired Missouri circuit court judge, Evelyn Baker, looks to correct her wrongs after sentencing a teen to nearly 250 years behind bars.
In an editorial published by the Washington Post, Baker explains that the then 16-year-old Bobby Bostic and an accomplice robbed a group of people at gunpoint, shooting two of the victims which resulted in minor injuries. Then following the robbery, the pair forced a woman into her car, robbing her before Bostic’s accomplice sexually assaulted her.
While these horrific crimes were deserving of a jail sentence, Baker feels as though her decision to subject the youth to 241 years in jail – a decision she described to Bostic in 1997 as one where he “will die in the Department of Corrections” – was too harsh. Baker used the revelation of hindsight’s 20/20 vision to plea with the Supreme Court in hopes they will rectify the mistake she made nearly 21 years ago.
“(Juveniles must) be afforded an opportunity to show that they have grown up and rehabilitated themselves,” Baker writes. “They cannot be permanently written off for something they did before their brains were even fully formed.”
Yet this is a new stance for Baker, as prior to this campaign, Bostic wrote the judge several times in an attempt to reverse this sentencing. But as stated by Baker, she proved to be unempathetic in her response.
“I told him, ‘You are the biggest fool who has ever stood in front of this court…You made your choice. You’re gonna have to live with your choice, and you’re gonna die with your choice… Your mandatory date to go in front of the parole board will be the year 2201. Nobody in this room is going to be alive in the year 2201,'” Baker’s editorial explained.
However, new research presented by the Massachusetts General Hospital detailing how the neurological makeup of teenagers should result in justice reform for juveniles caused Baker’s stance to pivot.
“It is teenagers’ heightened vulnerability to reward that drives risky behavior, contrary to longstanding beliefs that teenagers are unable to gauge risks,” the report detailed. “They can often recognize risks, but incomplete development of brain mechanisms related to modulation of impulsive behavior reduces their tendency to heed those risks.”
Because of this, Baker asks the Supreme Court to give Bostic the “chance (she) did not.”
Bostic, who is now represented by Missouri’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), praised Baker for attempting to correct her wrongs with this letter.
“Bobby Bostic should get a chance to show that crimes he committed as a teen do not define him for his entire life,” Missouri’s ACLU Legal Director, Tony Rothert said. “Judge Evelyn Baker’s advocacy on behalf of Mr. Bostic underscores that we must honor the Constitution and recognize the Supreme Court decision that says kids – even ones that commit crimes — think fundamentally different than adults… We hope the Supreme Court will take note of Judge Baker’s decision to speak out. We urge the court to make this case right.”