Emily Johnson

Lynn, front, and Travis Johnson told the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee about their 2-year-old daughter’s death at the hands of a 13-year-old.
We Support Emily's Law

An “unspeakable” crime in 2006 triggered a bill that would move the most violent young offenders out of juvenile court. It has a key GOP lawmaker’s support.

February 10, 2011

Minnesota children who have been charged with violent crimes could be certified as adults, under a bill that is moving through the House. Under current law, children have to be at least 14 before they can be charged as adults.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, has been dubbed “Emily’s Law,” named for 2-year-old Emily Johnson, who was killed in 2006 by the 13-year-old son of her day-care provider in Fergus Falls.

Her parents, Lynn and Travis Johnson, testified about their loss, the fifth time they have done so in as many years. “This is our fifth year,” Lynn Johnson said. “We have asked for people to work with us. The system has failed miserably.”

She asked why the age of 14 is a “magical age” and why “our daughter is lying in the ground” when her killer is free.

“These kids are not kids anymore when they commit intentional murder,” Travis Johnson told a packed House committee on Thursday. “They need to be punished.”

Members of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee took no action on Thursday, but Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, its chairman, made it clear he plans to push for the bill’s passage.

“My intention is to move forward and not let it die again,” Cornish said, admonishing members to “keep in mind little Emily” instead of a young offender he dubbed “little Johnny.”

The bill would allow a judge to certify children as young as 10 if they are accused of murder, manslaughter, assault, aggravated robbery or sexual conduct.

Minors between the ages of 14 and 17 can already be certified as adults. According to the bill’s supporters, 13 states allow violent offenders to be certified at ages younger than 14. In Kansas and Vermont, the youngest age is 10.

Westrom said that Colorado also allows 10-year-olds to be tried as adults if they’re facing murder charges. “The whole basis is what’s been used elsewhere,” he said, noting that he’d be willing to negotiate for a certification age between 10 and 13. No one, he said, “can argue that the system doesn’t need to be improved.”