The Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in the Booker ruling, "In fulfilling our duty to decide constitutional issues, we hold that an automatic life sentence when imposed on a juvenile homicide offender with no consideration of the juvenile’s age or other circumstances violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution."
Pike was 18 years old when she killed Colleen Slemmer in January 1995.
The Nashville Tennessean reports Pike’s attorneys said her sentencing should be amended because there "is no hard line of maturity or difference between the brain development of a 17-year-old and 18-year-old."
WBIR-TV reports Judge Scott Green wrote in his decision, "This ruling applies only to juvenile homicide offenders — not to adult offenders."
Pike was convicted of murder in 1996 and sentenced to death. According to the Nashville Tennessean, due to Pike’s age at the time of the murder, she is the only person left on death row who was 18 years old when they committed the crime. She is also reportedly the only female on Tennessee’s death row.
Following this week’s decision by the Knox County judge, Pike’s attorneys said in a statement, "At the time of the crime nearly 30 years ago, Christa Pike was a teenager, just 18, with untreated severe mental illness and a history of severe, repeated physical and sexual abuse, violence, rape, and neglect that began when Christa was very young. Christa’s co-defendant, who was 17, will be eligible for parole soon. Yet Christa, who was just a few months older, may be executed."
According to Pike’s appeal filed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018, on Jan. 11, 1995, Pike told her friend she wanted to kill Slemmer because she "had just felt mean that day."
On Jan. 12, 1995, the friend saw Pike with Slemmer, Pike’s boyfriend, and another student from the Job Corps Center. The group walked away at approximately 8 p.m., and they returned about two hours later without Slemmer.
The same night, Pike reportedly went to her friend’s room and said she slit Slemmer’s throat multiple times with a box cutter, hit her with asphalt, and cut her back with a meat cleaver. She then carved a pentagram into Slemmer’s forehead and chest.
The appeal says Pike kept a piece of Slemmer’s skull "as a souvenir," and even brought it to breakfast with her the next morning.
She reportedly had a difficult upbringing, which included reportedly being sexually abused by her grandmother’s boyfriend and neglect by her parents. Her father reportedly tried to put her up for adoption right before she turned 18. When Pike was young, her mother reportedly stayed at a bar to drink even though Pike was a having seizures and needed to go to the hospital.
The appeal said in part, "All in all, the jury heard a clear story: Pike’s childhood and upbringing were very difficult and, in some ways, explained how she became a person capable of such a brutal murder."
According to the court document, Dr. Eric Engum said at her trial he "examined Pike and, although she suffered from no symptoms of brain damage or insanity, she did suffer from 'very severe borderline personality disorder' and exhibited signs of cannabis dependence and a depressive disorder."
Another forensic psychiatrist, Dr. William Bernet, said Slemmer’s murder included "satanic elements," but it "appeared more indicative of 'an adolescent dabbling in Satanism.'"
The Tennessee Supreme Court justices rejected her 2018 claim because Pike’s case was not an exception of a "heinous and inexplicable crime."
They wrote, “"But in sentencing Pike to death, we rule out the possibility that her crime was a product of the immature mind of youth rather than fixed depravity. And we presume that she is incapable of reform even though the stories of other teenage killers, many of whom have been rehabilitated behind bars, reveal other possibilities."