Should Robert Cameron Houston, Murderer of Raechaele Elton, Ever Walk Free Again? I Don’t Think So
By Ken K. Gourdin
Robert Cameron Houston, as a juvenile, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after he raped and heinously murdered Raechele Elton, a staff member at the facility where he was receiving treatment when she agreed, against her employer’s policy, to give him a ride from that facility to the secure facility where he then was confined. Nor is that the extent of his criminal record, which also includes sexual assualts or attempted sexual assaults on two relatives.
The United States Supreme Court previously barred imposition of the death penalty against juveniles in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), available at the following address, last accessed January 31, 2015: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-633.ZS.html. Mr. Houston appealed his sentence to the Utah Supreme Court, which upheld it. See State v. Houston, 2015 UT 36, available on line at the following address, last accessed January 31, 2016: http://cases.justia.com/utah/supreme-court/2015-20120683.pdf?ts=1423498586. Mr. Houston has appealed his sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case.
Mr. Houston had a brutal, horrific childhood. He was born with a slightly deformed ear and without full hearing, which made it difficult for him to learn to talk. At school, he was ridiculed and bullied by his classmates for these differences. He was abused by his father, and he was raped repeatedly over a period of months by a friend of his brother.
I would never deign to compare Mr. Houston’s experiences to my own: clearly, they are very different, and I had many advantages growing up that he did not. However, we do have certain things in common. He was different from his classmates; so was I. because of those differences, many of his classmates taunted and bullied him; so did many of mine.
Notwithstanding the fact that I have Cerebral Palsy and I have walked with some sort of ambulatory device or devices for most of my life (or with a severe limp without them), I was mainstreamed in school from day one. It proved to be a blessing in the long run because it forced me to engage the world on its terms rather than demanding or expecting that the world engage me on my terms. But it did cost me, both in the short run and in the long run. Just as Mr. Houston was, I was different. Just as Mr. Houston was, I was also taunted and bullied by some of my classmates because of those differences. Just as I suspect is the case with Mr. Houston, I did not emerge unscathed from those experiences.
No one should have to go through what Mr. Houston went through as a child and as a youth. There’s no way I could possibly understand or relate to what he went through. But at some point, we all have to decide whether we’re going to allow the awful things that happen to us to become justifications for victimizing others, or whether we’re going to do the best we can to rise above them. Mr. Houston chose the former course. As unfair as it might be for society to force him to pay for that choice by spending the rest of his life in confinement, it would be even more unfair to his past victims (not to mention his potential future victims) if he ever were to walk free again.
In response to Deseret News coverage of the case, I wrote:
The brief of counsel for petitioner seems to imply that it is, I gather, “cruel and unusual” to hold Mr. Houston accountable for “a decision he made” as a juvenile by imprisoning him for life without parole. Granted, I’d like to read the brief because that particular passage cries out for context, but, “a decision he made”? Have cereal for breakfast that day, wear jeans and a t-shirt, get a tattoo . . . rape and heinously murder Raechale Elton? “A decision he made”? The usual mitigating factors likely to be found in offenses involving young offenders seem conspicuously absent in this case. Mr. Houston’s crimes aren’t simply the youthful indiscretions of someone who is young and stupid. They aren’t even the crimes of someone who is young and hot-headed. Mr. Houston is fortunate to still be alive. Had he been just a couple years older, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I don’t care how old he was at the time he committed his crimes: society needs and deserves to be protected from him permanently.