A mother’s tribute to her slain son, J.J. Clavo
Keymontae Lindsay, the teen held in the killing of Grant Union High School student-athlete Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo three years ago will be tried in juvenile court after a Sacramento judge upheld a controversial new state law barring minors under 16 years of age from being tried as adults.
Lindsay, now 18, remains in juvenile custody and will next appear at B.T. Collins Juvenile Justice Center on Jan. 16. His trial is slated to begin Feb. 1.
The ruling Thursday by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Alyson L. Lewis came nearly two weeks after Senate Bill 1391 became law Jan. 1 in a test of the statute anticipated to be repeated in courtrooms across the state.
“The Court believes it had to find 1391 constitutional,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Alyson L. Lewis said from the bench, dismissing prosecutors’ motion to transfer the case to adult court.
Lindsay was 15 when he was arrested and charged as an adult with murder, shooting a weapon into an occupied vehicle and a gang enhancement for his alledged role in the November 2015 shooting death of the 17-year-old Clavo.
Clavo and three of his football teammates were returning to the Grant High campus from a lunch run hours before a playoff game, Nov. 13, 2015, when prosecutors said Lindsay walked up to their car at the intersection of Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street and opened fire.
Clavo was shot in the neck and later died at UC Davis Medical Center. Teammate Malik Johnson, also 17, was struck in the arm.
Police the next day arrested Lindsay on an unrelated weapons charge during a traffic stop, later tying the 9 mm handgun they found to Clavo’s killing.
Now, after three years, numerous delays and a new law, the landscape for Lindsay, 18, and others accused of murder and other serious crimes has dramatically changed. Thursday’s hearing in Sacramento Juvenile Court – one of many anticipated in courtrooms across California – was to be a vital test as to how much.
Lewis last year ordered Lindsay’s case sent to Sacramento Superior Court after a transfer hearing to determine whether a juvenile or adult court would hear the case, but Lewis stayed her ruling until Thursday to hear attorneys’ argument on whether SB 1391 passed constitutional muster.
Lindsay’s mother said she anticipated the ruling, saying “it’s what should have happened.”
“No child under any circumstances should be tried as an adult,” said Ranika Gilmore. “Children are children. They should have the chance to rehabilitate.”
SB 1391 was signed into law in October and seen as broadening criminal justice reforms that focused on rehabilitating young offenders and reducing the numbers of young people in California’s prisons.
But on Thursday, prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Casey Newton argued lawmakers defied California voters with a blanket rule that jeopardizes public safety and takes decision-making out of the hands of judges.
“We the voters want you the judge to make a case-by-case evaluation of the seriousness of offenses and the age of the minor,” Newton argued. “What 1391 takes away is your guidance. ...We’re taking (judges) out of the equation. There’s no way forward in cases like this.”
SB 1391 amended 2016’s Proposition 57. The voter-approved Prop 57 mandated judges – not prosecutors – determine whether minors charged with certain crimes be tried in juvenile or adult court.
Prior to Prop. 57, prosecutors could request to transfer 14- and 15-year-olds to adult court if they were charged with a serious offense, such as murder, arson, robbery, rape or kidnapping.
Lindsay attorney Kevin Adamsom argued SB 1391 should stand because it furthers the intent of Prop. 57 – to emphasize rehabilitation over incarceration and shrink the numbers of young prisoners.
“We are sending too many kids to adult court. We need to start focusing on rehabilitation,” Adamson said. “How do we do that? We send it back to juvenile court.”
Lewis agreed. Saying there are “reasonable arguments on both sides,” the judge nonetheless nodded to the larger movement afoot in California to reduce the numbers of juvenile prisoners and rehabilitate those in custody.
“Under 57, 14 and 15-year-olds can be tried as adults. With 1391, the district attorney loses the ability to even file (charges) regardless of the severity of the charge. The decrease in punishment is significant,” Lewis said.
SB 1391, Lewis continued, “did more for promoting rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system than 57 did, but in the same direction,” adding that 1391 “does not step outside the lines of 57. Prop. 57 strikes a balance between public safety and rehabilitation. SB 1391 disrupts that balance, but the Court is not convinced that striking a balance is the goal of 57.”
Clavo’s mother, Nicole Clavo, said she was not surprised by the ruling, but commented bitterly on the new law.
“I don’t understand why they created the new law. It’s not ‘one size fits all,’ ” Clavo said. “We’re dealing with murderers.”