For all the debate that has followed two landmark US Supreme Court rulings against the death penalty, the predicament of Toronto Patterson and T. J. Jones remains the same. Both remain on death row in Texas and are scheduled to be executed next month. Jones was convicted of killing an elderly man in 1994 and Patterson for the murder of his cousin and her two daughters a year later. In most nations their lives would be spared - both were 17 at the time of the crimes. If the decisions by the Supreme Court last month to ban executions of the mentally retarded and allow only juries - rather than judges alone - to pass the ultimate sentence represents an incremental victory for the anti-death lobby, Jones and Patterson show how far it has got to go. Libya, Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the only other countries that have executed juvenile offenders in the past decade. Standing alone with Somalia, the US is yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - a document that outlaws the killing of juveniles. 'The rulings were an enormous step forward,' said death penalty opponent Anne James, director of the Washington-based International Justice Project. 'But we have a long, long way to go. There is a great deal of work to figure out all the legal ramifications, even before we tackle the wider issue. I think it will be years before we manage to turn America away from the death penalty itself.' The issue of juvenile executions highlights the growing differences between the US and much of the developed world on the death penalty. It even separates it from some of its ideological opponents, such as China and Vietnam. Campaigners know they have an uphill battle against the use of capital punishment generally, given that polls still suggest most Americans - about 65 per cent - support the death penalty. The stance of Republican and Democrat leaders reflects the popular view. The judicial consequences of September 11 has probably pushed the issue farther back, some analysts believe. The use of the death penalty against the mentally handicapped attracted headlines when Bill Clinton campaigned for the presidency in 1992. Mr Clinton left the campaign trail to return to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a convicted police killer who blew out part of his own brain while trying to kill himself at the scene. Brain damaged, Rector pushed away his last meal, a slice of pecan pie, saying he 'would have it later'. The then-Arkansas governor said: 'The American people support the death penalty and so do I.' The number of states restoring the death penalty to local statutes has gradually increased since the punishment was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976. Thirty-eight of America's 50 states permit the death penalty, with executions peaking at 98 in 1999. By focusing on perceived injustices, campaigners hope to create wider doubts on the fairness of the US system, one plagued by differing legal standards between states and DNA technology that has proved innocent people have been executed. Of 3,701 convicted murderers now on death row, 82 committed their crimes as juveniles. Ms James said the ruling against the execution of the retarded gave fresh hope for her cause. 'The issue with the mentally retarded was essentially one of diminished culpability,' she said. 'We firmly believe there is a growing body of evidence that the same legal thinking can be applied to the cases of juveniles.' It is all too late for Napoleon Beazley, a former star athlete executed in Texas last month after a murder case involving the father of a federal judge killed in an aborted car-jacking. Beazley had no previous criminal record and was 17 at the time. He drew the death penalty largely due to the testimony of co-defendants, two brothers who struck a deal with prosecutors.