Life sentence for 16-year-old inspires Sparks bill

State Rep. Mike Sparks, inspired by reporting on a 16-year-old Nashville girl sentenced to life in prison after killing a man in 2004, is sponsoring a bill on police dealings with juvenile crime suspects, reports the Daily News Journal.

The bill (HB1449) would require minors to be advised of their rights and that a parent or guardian must be present for any interview with police and the interview be recorded on video when juveniles are suspected of breaking a state or federal law.

“Not everyone has access to high-priced lawyers to bail them out. My job is to help represent the people who don’t have a voice. We need to help these people,” said Sparks, admitting he hasn’t watched the documentary yet.

Sparks said the legislation is inspired by another documentary he learned about from constituent Kathy Hines, who is also the chairwoman of TN-ZERO Crime Task Force.

She was inspired by the story of Cyntoia Brown, who is serving a sentence for the 2004 murder of a 43-year-old man in Nashville, Hines said.

Brown, who was 16 years old at the time of the crime, said she feared for her life so she shot the victim. She was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison.

Hines said she recently watched the 2012 PBS documentary about Brown, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story.” (Note: It’s online HERE.)

“I was really shocked by watching it,” Hines said, adding she then called Sparks and told him about the need for more protection for juvenile suspects. “The whole thing bothered me because there was nobody there for her.”

Sparks said he agreed to support the law change because he is concerned about how much the state spends on housing juvenile offenders who didn’t know their rights when they were questioned.

“A lot of folks only look at how we can tie a noose around someone’s neck and strengthen it,” Sparks said.

Note: The Nashville Scene did a lengthy story on the Brown case in 2011, HERE.