05. Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Human Development/Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Kansas Charley: The Story of a 19th-Century Boy Murderer (Viking, 2003). Through the tale of Charles Miller, a nineteenth-century adolescent, Brumberg recreates the experience of a poor, emotionally impoverished orphan from New York City whose life circumstances led him to commit a brutal act of murder at the age of 15. After a trial that took less than three days, Miller was executed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, at the age of 17. Then, as now, there were some Americans who thought executing a minor was barbaric while others hailed it as an act of justice. Brumberg uses boy culture and current psychological findings about the teenage brain in her assessment of Charley. In her historical analysis of why Charley was denied clemency, Brumberg illuminates how death penalty cases, even when they involve minors, usually become political footballs. The book offers an important case history for the legal community as the Supreme Court hears Simmons v. Roper.

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