When Christa Pike received her sentence on March 30, 1996, she became the youngest woman sentenced to death in the United States in the modern era.
When Christa Pike received her sentence on March 30, 1996, she became the youngest woman sentenced to death in the United States in the modern era. Christa was just 18 years old when she committed a crime that reflected her severe mental illness. Her youth is evident in photos and videos of her calling out for her mother as the judge sentenced Christa.
Since Christa’s conviction, scientific research has demonstrated that there is no meaningful difference in brain development between a seventeen year old and an eighteen year old. It is well established that juveniles younger than eighteen should not receive as severe punishments as adults because they are more immature, more susceptible to peer pressure, and less able to understand the consequences of their actions—all of which makes them less culpable for their crimes and more open to rehabilitation.
Studies by the Harvard Medical School, the National Institute of Mental Health, UCLA’s Department of Neuroscience and more show that brains are not fully developed until the mid-20’s. These studies confirm that older adolescents, like those younger than eighteen, are more impulsive, make unsound judgments, and are less aware of the consequences of their actions.
Accordingly, in 2018, the American Bar Association passed a resolution opposing the use of the death penalty for individuals 21 years old or younger at the time of the offense. In 2022, the American Psychological Association called for U.S. courts, Congress and state legislatures to ban the death penalty to anyone younger than 21.
Brain imaging technologies have further shown that these risky behaviors and poor decisions are aggravated when teens are with their peers, as was the case here.
Watch a video from the day of Christa's sentencing.
Read Christa’s latest pleading to reconsider her death sentence based on her age at the time of the crime.