Just before his 15th birthday, a 24-year-old neighborhood drug dealer, Jacques Bethea, stopped Kenneth in the street claiming his mother had stolen drugs from him. Bethea threatened to hurt Kenneth’s mother unless he helped repay her debt. During a 30-day period Bethea used Kenneth Young in a string of hotel robberies and paid him with a pair of Air Jordans, a 6-pack of Heineken and $50. At each hotel, Kenneth grabbed the money and the surveillance tape, while Bethea held people at gunpoint. One month after his first robbery, Kenneth was arrested along with Bethea while fleeing a botched robbery in Georgia. Bethea received one life sentence, Kenneth received four. After over a decade in prison, the U.S. Supreme Court has given Kenneth hope for a second chance. Click here to view Kenneth’s timeline in parallel with the world he grew up in.
Kenneth’s mother Stephanie is ridden with guilt over her son’s incarceration, and still struggles to tell the truth about her role in putting Kenneth behind bars. A young mother, and single parent addicted to drugs and alcohol, throughout his childhood Stephanie disappeared for days at a time on crack binges, leaving Kenneth and his older sister to fend for themselves. Her neglect and abuse made Kenneth easy prey for criminals like her own drug dealer, Jacques Bethea. It’s a failure Kenneth has forgiven his mother. Nothing shows Kenneth’s maturity more than his renewed relationship with his mother. Clean and sober, Stephanie credits the love she receives from her son for her recovery. Through his four criminal trials as a teenager Stephanie was not there for her son. This time she’s determined to be by his side.
Florida lawyer Paolo Annino believes Kenneth Young, having served 11 years, should be set free, and under the Supreme Court’s Graham decision he’s seeking his immediate release. As head of Florida State University’s Children in Prison Project and the co-Director of the Public Interest Law Center, it’s what Annino has been fighting for, for the past 15 years – to place rehabilitation at the heart of the juvenile justice system. Annino and his students have received national and international recognition for their advocacy on behalf of children. In 2010, members of the U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly cited a study lead by Annino in a landmark decision that life in prison without the opportunity for parole represents cruel and unusual punishment for juvenile offenders who did not commit homicide. He is the attorney of record for more than 500 appellate cases in state and federal court.
Corinne Koeppen graduated from the Florida State University Law program in 2011. Having been called to the Florida Bar just a few months ago, Kenneth’s resentencing trial will be her first time defending a client in court. She is one of only a handful of graduate students selected each year to go through Paolo Annino’s training program at the Public Interest Law Center. Corinne was drawn to work with children in the criminal justice system after meeting several of the Center’s clients in adult prison, children who had been sentenced to life without parole for mistakes they made as children. She has been working on Kenneth’s case for nearly a year. She has invested hundreds of hours in building a case to prove that Kenneth is rehabilitated and deserves a second chance.
Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He’s the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges at the U.S. Supreme Court eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. In 2005 Stevenson convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to ban the death penalty for children, Roper v. Simmons. Since then he has brought two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the use of death-in-prison sentences for children Jackson v Hobbs and Miller v Alabama. In June 2012 Miller resulted in a ban on mandatory life imprisonment without parole sentences for children, forcing 29 States to reexamine the way in which they prosecute and punish children.