When teenagers commit murder, you can’t treat them the same as adults.

Legally, the U.S. Supreme Court says you can’t just throw teenagers in prison forever, with no chance at parole, except in very rare cases.

Matt Landry was just 21 years old when he was shot and killed, execution style, in an abandoned house in Detroit.

The two guys convicted of killing Landry were teenagers: then-17-year-old Ihab Maslamani, and 16-year-old Robert Taylor.

With teenagers like this, you cannot automatically lock them up for life without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court says children are, by definition, more likely to reform over time.

Judge Druzinski said even though these two were teenagers when they committed this crime, considering this case and the evidence, she deemed them “irreparably corrupt.”

But defense attorney Val Newman disagrees.

“Ihab Maslamani and Robert Taylor are not irreparably corrupt," Newman says. These two teens weren't vicious masterminds meticulously plotting to murder someone, she argues: They decided on the spur of the moment to rob Matt Landry outside a Quiznos. The robbery went bad, they forced Landry into the back of his own car, and drove around with him for hours, making him take money out of an ATM and using it to buy clothes, gas and drugs.

“That turned into, ‘He’s seen our faces, he knows who were are, oh my God, if we let him go he’s going to tell people who we are,’” Newman argues. In court, she made the case that both Maslamani and Taylor come from abusive homes and experienced repeated trauma and neglect.

And Newman says Maslamani is showing evidence of maturing, by taking full responsibility for the crime and arguing his co-defendent, Taylor, wasn't involved in the decision to rob or kill Landry.

Newman, the defense attorney, also presented evidence from an expert, to answer the question: Are there any teenagers who are so depraved, that they can truly never be reformed?

“They may exist," says University of Michigan Professor Dan Keating, who specializes in adolescent brain development. "But we wouldn’t know for sure who they are. At that young an age.”

Keating's argument is, basically, there are teenage psychopaths who are fundamentally un-reformable people. But identifying who they are? That takes years.

Read the full article "It's illegal to lock a juvenile up forever – unless they're a 'rare exception'" at MichiganRadio.org.