KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Knox County judge has rejected a bid to vacate the death sentence of Christa Pike, the only woman on death row in Tennessee and the youngest American woman to be sentenced to death since 1972.
Pike and two others were convicted in the brutal 1995 murder of 19-year-old Colleen Slemmer when all four teens were participating in Job Corps, a federal jobs training program for troubled adolescents, in Knoxville.
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Pike, 18 at the time, became the youngest woman to be sentenced to death in the United States since 1972. Tadaryl Shipp, 17 at the time, was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole plus 25 years. Shadolla Peterson, 19, received probation after turning informant for the state’s case against Pike and Shipp.
Citing a recent landmark ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court in State v. Booker declaring mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of homicide a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, attorneys for Pike filed a motion on Aug. 30 requesting that her post-conviction proceeding be reopened to consider that the death sentence was unconstitutional.
The Booker ruling upheld that adolescence, mental illness, and childhood trauma can be factored in when determining a proportionate sentence for crimes committed by juveniles. Pike’s attorneys contended that the case should be reopened so that the abuse she suffered as a child and the mental illnesses she was diagnosed with later in life could be considered in sentencing.
Knox County Criminal Court Judge Scott Green denied the motion based on Pike’s age at the time of the crime, noting that the Booker ruling applied only to juveniles, not adults, convicted of first-degree murder.
“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. There is no difference in the brain of an 18 year old and a 17 year old. The trial court’s order refers to Christa as an adult, but brain science tells us she was a child. Christa’s death sentence is arbitrary and she should not be executed.”Christa Pike’s Defense Team
The Tennessee Department of Correction currently lists the parole eligibility date for Shipp, who was 17 at the time of Slemmer’s murder, as Dec. 8, 2026.
Pike would be the first woman executed in Tennessee since 1819 and the first person executed who was 18 at the time of the crime in Tennessee since the death penalty was reinstituted.
On Aug. 24, 2001, Pike strangled inmate Patricia Jones with a shoestring nearly choking her to death. She was convicted of attempted first-degree murder on Aug. 12, 2004.