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Thompson v. Oklahoma - A Question Of Age, The Consensus Of Society, Amnesty International On Capital Punishment

death court decision william


William Wayne Thompson


State of Oklahoma

Appellant's Claim

That Thompson was a child at the time of his crime and should not be subjected to the death penalty.

Chief Lawyer for Appellant

Harry F. Tepker Jr.

Chief Lawyer for Appellee

David W. Lee, Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O'Connor, John Paul Stevens (writing for the Court)

Justices Dissenting

William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Byron R. White (Anthony M. Kennedy did not participate)


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

29 June 1988


The Oklahoma Court's death sentence against Thompson was overturned and the case was remanded.


The decision established a national standard recognizing that sentencing defendants under 16 years old to death constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

Related Cases

  • Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958).
  • Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).
  • Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976).
  • Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989).
  • Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989).


Amnesty International, http://www.amnesty.org.

Further Readings

  • "Juveniles and the Death Penalty: Executions Worldwide since 1985." Amnesty International Index: ACT 50/05/95.
  • Taylor, Stuart, Jr. "Justices Put Age Limit On Executions."New York Times, June 30, 1988, p. 17.
  • Tushnet, Mark. The Death Penalty. New York: Facts On File, 1994.
  • Whitford, Ellen. "How A Family Tragedy May Lead To A Landmark Court Ruling." Scholastic Update, April 8, 1988, pp. 10-12.
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over 8 years ago

He did get punished for his crimes. He got sentenced to life inprisonment. I dont care if he was only 15. He murdered someone. Even if the guy was abusive to his sister he still shouldnt have done it. Its not his place to go killing someone. Leave that to the police to decide what to do with the abusive people. And it was his sisters EX husband. Murder is never right. no matter how old or young or messedd up you are. it was your own decision. have to take the consequensies for your actiions. he was old enough for that. he already had a oast of offenses.

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over 10 years ago

He was abusive

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about 8 years ago

My dad was Buck's brother, Joel. Of course I wasnt around when Buck was murdered, but my dad was, and i have heard many stories. All of which make my skin crawl. Not only about Buck and the situation he was in, but the life that all the kids had to endure for so long. No child should have to go through any abuse for any amount of time. But I, once again wasn't there and cant judge that lifestyle, because i have been fortunate enough to be raised in a loving and caring environment. I cant say what I would do after years of abuse and drug use, nor can i say what i would do if i was the one who did the abusing. I have children now and am very curious about my family beyond my dads adoptive family. I have so many cousins whom i have never met, and that I and my brother have no relations with. It also saddens me very much that I will never be able to have a relationship with my uncle buck, who was very close to my dad, all because someone chose to play God and take his life. For this I believe, the murderers should have been persecuted to the full extent of the law. In our lives, we have to be accountable for our own actions. I do not believe it is our right nor responsibility to take the law and God's will into our own hands.

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over 7 years ago

i am sorry for what happened to your brother vikki, but he had what came to him. he was abusive and no one should have gone through that. i for one would have done the EXACT same thing that william did to chales. i dont appriciate anyone putting their hands on someone. ive been in that situation and its not good. i wouldnt want anyone to go through that and have the person that abused them get away with it. i wouldve done more than leave him by the river i would have KILLED him in many different ways so the police wouldnt have reconized him. he got wat he deserved.

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over 8 years ago

i would of done alot more than just leave him in the water, i would just let him burn

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over 8 years ago

My honest opinion is murder is murder no matter what. Sit the kid down in a juvenile detention center until he is 18, make the boy serve about 20-25 years, the inject the poor boy. First of all, he had all the rights in the world to take action. I don't care what the circumstances are, if ANYONE was to put their hands on my sister I'd have to say I'd do the same thing. I do think it's wrong for nothing to happen to William Thompson for murder though. Or at least that's what I've read.

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about 9 years ago

I'm glad the abuser is dead. There is too much abuse in this world and I for one am glad to see an abusive individual get their just deserts.

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over 9 years ago

Jesse you have family ...real close. Closer than you know.

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over 10 years ago

I know that my brother was abusive to his family. I am his only older sister and saw the abuse first hand even experienced his abusive behavior myself. I beleive the abuse stemmed from the drug use that started when he was a teenager. Much of this had to do with our upbringing and the examples that were set by our parents. This is no excuse for his behavior, it was a path that he chose to follow and in turn his family suffered. Not only did his wife, children and her family suffer but so did Buck's family. We were left with a big hole in our hearts because we loved him and accepted him with all his faults. I do not condone his behavior but that is not for me to judge. He was my brother and I will always remember him with some of the fondest memories during our childhood.

I do miss my brother and wish so much there had been a different outcome to the situation. I regret that I have never been able to know my 2 nephews and to tell and show them that they are truly loved. My hope is that they do not repeat the cycle that we thought was "normal" and that one day I will be able to sit down and talk with them and tell them that. This has only made the hole bigger in my heart.

To Vikki I would only like to say I understand the situation you were in and wish there could have been a different outcome. I know you have suffered through all this, as have the boys, and like the rest of us probably always will. You do have my understanding and are still in my thoughts and prayers.

One that has been able to break the cycle--Bev

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over 10 years ago

My mother is Charles Keene's oldest sister. "Buck" as he was called by all, was a sweet man to me. I do remember him even tho I was only a young child of 10. My uncle did not deserve the torture he recieved by his brothers in law, but make no mistake, my uncle was not a "family man". He was a drug addict and an alcoholic spending every dollar they made to support his habits. He had a history of mental illness due to childhood upbringing. Sadly, several of his siblings have followed the same path. My aunt was no saint herself, but no woman deserves to be beaten, and suffer the mental abuse my uncle made her life to be. I can not judge what vicki, wayne and the others have done to my uncle, only God. I can say as a woman tho, people say to just leave an abusive relationship. That is easier said than done. It could have easily been the other way around, because buck was a violent man. I could have ended up attending an aunt's funeral and visiting my uncle in prison. --My only regret in this is to have never seen my cousins. I hope they grew up and was able to break the disfunctional cycle the Keene family has created. ---to my uncle's wife, vikki, I hope that life finds you peace.

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over 10 years ago

Charles Keene is my brother, and he will never see his children grow or see the light of day again. The cruel and heartless people that killed him deserve what God has set on them all. I remeber all of the people that killed my brother. I use to see them on a weekly basis. They are cruel and heartless people. I was seven years old....but I remember it as if it was yesterday...I will never forget. My brother did not abuse Vickie, like she said at trial. I remember things about Vickie Thompson that would make yor hair rise on your head, like the day she gave me vodka to put me to sleep so she could go see her boyfriend. I was seven years old. God save her soul. Everone pays to God when they die.

Charles Keene's Little sister