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MERCY FOR CHRISTA PIKE

Christa Pike is the only woman on Tennessee’s death row for a crime committed when she was an 18-year-old girl with untreated severe mental illness.

 

If her execution proceeds, Christa Pike will be the first woman put to death in the State of Tennessee in more than 200 years.

Christa Pike

Key Facts

Youth

When Christa received her sentence on March 30, 1996, she became the youngest woman to receive the death penalty in the United States in the modern era.

The Sentence

Christa’s sentence is disproportionate to the other two defendants who were involved, one of whom did not serve time at all and the other who—just a few months younger than Christa—is eligible for parole in 2026.

Severe Mental Illness

In addition to being born with a malformation of the brain and organic brain damage, Christa suffers from bipolar disorder and severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Trial

Christa’s state appointed lawyers failed to present any mitigating evidence of her history of sexual violence and abuse to the jury, leaving the jurors with no reason to consider an alternative sentence to the death penalty.

Trauma

Christa experienced severe, repeated physical and sexual abuse and violence that began when she was in first grade.

Imprisonment

As the only woman on death row in Tennessee, Christa has been held in solitary confinement for 24 years as of January 2021, which is exacerbating her underlying mental health issues.

    There is no excuse for what I did. There are reasons for the way that I acted, but nothing excuses the crime and the damage it has caused to so many lives. 

- Christa Pike

Clemency for Christa

To grant clemency is to give mercy. It is an essential component of our criminal justice system in the United States. In Christa's case, clemency is the recognition that the ultimate punishment is not appropriate for someone who committed a crime at 18 years old.

 

Per the American Bar Association: “Prior to the execution of a death-sentenced prisoner, a clemency petition asks a governor, board of pardons and parole, or both, to conduct a full review of the case and grant either a reprieve (a delay of execution for a set or undetermined period of time); a pardon (effectively ‘undoing’ the initial conviction); or a commutation of sentence (for example, reducing a sentence of death to a sentence of life in prison). In the capital clemency context, death row petitioners typically seek either a reprieve or a commutation.”

Read more about clemency in Tennessee

Application for Permission to Appeal 

If Ms. Pike is executed, she would be the only person Tennessee has executed in the modern era (post-Furman, issued in 1972) who was 18 years old at the time of the offense. More than 3,100 people in Tennessee have been convicted of first degree homicide. Of those thousands, only eight were 18 years old at the time of offense and death-sentenced. All seven male death sentences predated Ms. Pike’s, and all have subsequently been vacated. Ms. Pike is the last 18-year-old offender to be sentenced to death in Tennessee."

Read the application

Amicus Brief

"Rejecting the State’s motion to schedule Ms. Pike’s execution imposes a minimal burden upon the State. Yet deferring to the Inter- American Commission’s precautionary measures upholds the international rule of law and human rights principles while aligning with the United States’ own interpretation of the function of the Commission."

Read the brief

Response to the State's Motion 

“The Attorney General asks this Court to direct the Tennessee Department of Correction to commit an extraordinary act. TDOC personnel would be required to execute a severely mentally ill, braindamaged, and traumatized child who became the teenager who committed a terrible crime. Christa would be the first woman Tennessee executes in over 200 years, the first teenaged offender Tennessee executes in the modern era, and the only teenaged female offender to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was found to be unconstitutional in 1972. This Court should instead issue a certificate of commutation recommending that the Governor commute Christa’s sentence to life/life without possibility of parole, the sentence imposed on all other (nearly 200) female individuals in Tennessee convicted of first degree murders.”

Read the response

6th Circuit Concurrence

“I believe that society’s evolving standards of decency likely do not permit the execution of individuals who were under 21 at the time of their offense.”

Read the concurrence

IACHR Resolution

“… the Commission considers that the risk to the proposed beneficiary’s rights requires immediate measures given the severe conditions of her detention in solitary confinement on death row and before the possible execution of the death penalty.”

Read the resolution

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