As Jake Evans Trial Looms, Texas Has No Way to Punish 17-Year-old Capital Murderers

In October of last year, at around 11:15 p.m., 17-year-old Jake Evans placed a 911 call from his upscale home in Aledo, a tony suburb just outside of Weatherford.

"It's weird," he said, his voice eerily calm as he spoke with the operator. "I wasn't even really angry with them. It just kind of happened. I've been kind of planning on killing for a while now."

According to his written confession, he knocked on sister Mallory's bedroom door and told her their mother had asked for her. He allegedly shot her in the head and in the back when she opened the door, then ran downstairs to the study, where he said he shot his mother, Jamie, three times. Evans says he began to empty the .22 revolver, but heard his 15-year-old sister's moans. He yelled out, "I'm sorry," returned to her bedroom and shot her once more.

"My plan was to kill my sister and my mom at my house and then go over to my grandparents and kill my oldest sister, Emily, and my two grandparents," he wrote. "Then I was going to wait until morning and kill my other sister, Audrey, because she was visiting from college."

He said he lost his taste for killing, though, as he watched his family die.

If convicted, Evans would obviously be the kind of killer best kept off the streets for a very, very long time. The law in Texas virtually assures this. Capital murder carries with it either a death sentence or life imprisonment without parole. And because Evans is 17, he can be charged as an adult. Yet in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court, he's a minor. Either punishment, the high court ruled, is unconstitutional.

This legal limbo for 17-year-old capital killers in Texas places courts in a precarious spot, because technically there is no legal punishment for them; prosecutors have no choice but to charge them with a lesser crime and risk putting them back on the streets. And a piece of legislation that would have addressed this constitutional gap in the criminal code failed to meet the legislature's deadline Tuesday night.

A bill proposed by state Senator Joan Huffman of Houston would have injected a little flexibility into state sentencing guidelines. It wouldn't apply retroactively to Evans' case, but it could establish a life sentence with the possibility of parole for capital offenders. At a January hearing, the judge declined to rule on whether Evans can be tried on charges for which no punishment exists. The case is set to go to trial July 22.

The Texas District and County Attorneys Association wants the issue resolved this session: