Ninham’s crime is described both in Is Life Without Parole For Juveniles Cruel And Unusual? and our memorial for Ninham’s victim Zong Vang. To summarize, Ninham, then 14, and a group of four other teens accosted 13-year-old Zong as he was riding his bike home from the store. They beat the boy and chased him to the fifth floor of a parking ramp. There, they beat him some more. Ninham and 13-year-old Richard Crapeau grabbed Zong and held him over the ramp’s wall–a 45 foot drop. They swung him around, with Ninham holding his wrists and Crapeau holding his ankles. They then decided to drop Zong. Zong fell 45 feet and died in the hospital. Ninham was convinced and sentenced to LWOP.
In 2010 the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear Ninham’s appeal. Ninham, who was represented by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), argued that his sentence was cruel and unusual due to his age. In 2011 the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that, while Ninham’s sentence was severe, it was not disproportionate to the crime and did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
In 2010 after the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear Ninham’s case, EJI released an article titled Wisconsin Supreme Court Grants EJI’s Request for Review of Death-In-Prison Sentence Imposed on 14-Year-Old Child. There are some problems here.
First, EJI refers to the murderer as a “child.” As stressed numerous times on this website, and as explained in detail in this post, the use of the word “child” to describe juvenile murderers is deeply offensive and inappropriate. The article dives into Ninham’s past, describing abuse the killer suffered. But they do not explain what the other “child” in this case–13-year-old victim Zong Vang–suffered. All they say is “At age 14, according to the trial court’s findings, Omer was with four other young teenagers when a bullying episode escalated into a tragic assault, resulting in the death of a 13-year-old boy.” This description omits a lot. They are correct that there was a bullying episode that escalated. But it did not simply end up with the “death” of the victim. Zong was dropped 45 feet. He was murdered, he did not just die from an accident.