A mother’s tribute to her slain son, J.J. Clavo
Keymontae Lindsay’s march to a juvenile murder trial in the 2015 killing of Grant High School student-athlete Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo was abruptly halted by a state appeals court as debate over a new state law looms over the case.
Lindsay’s trial was scheduled to start Feb. 1 in Sacramento Juvenile Court, just weeks after Sacramento Superior Court Judge Alyson Lewis ruled that Senate Bill 1391, barring minors under age 16 from begin tried as adults for murder and other serious crimes, was constitutional.
The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, officially became law Jan. 1.
Lewis’ January ruling was expected to echo up and down the state as judges wrestle with the legality of the new law in their own courtrooms.
The single-page order by the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal late last week doesn’t overturn the local judge’s ruling, but it puts a stop to Lindsay’s proceedings “until further notice of the court” to hear argument on 1391’s constitutionality.
If Lewis’ ruling is overturned, Lindsay could be tried as an adult. If Lindsay, now 18, is convicted as a juvenile, he would be held in custody until he turns 25.
Attorneys agreed to a new Feb. 26 trial date, but it is unclear whether the appellate panel will deliver a ruling by then.
“Until we hear further, we’re in a holding pattern,” said Lindsay attorney Kevin Adamson on Tuesday.
But the temporary stay offers a measure of hope for Nicole Clavo, J.J.’s mother. She wants the new law overturned and her son’s accused killer tried in adult court, saying lawmakers did not consider her and other crime victims in their haste to push through juvenile justice reforms.
“It renews a little hope, but now it becomes a kind of waiting game,” Nicole Clavo said Tuesday of the court’s decision. “I was excited. It was what I wanted to hear, what I needed to hear. I said, “We’re still in this fight.”
It was a worried Clavo who received the news from Sacramento County prosecutors the night before the scheduled Feb. 1 trial date: “I was a little concerned. I hadn’t heard anything. I expected we were going to trial,” she said.
Lindsay was 15 when he was arrested on suspicion of gunning down the 17-year-old Clavo in his car with a shot to the neck and wounding another Grant High School Pacers football teammate as they headed back to campus hours before a playoff game at the school. Sacramento County prosecutors charged Lindsay as an adult, filing murder and a host of other charges in the November 2015 shooting.
But prosecutors say they were later stymied by two pieces of legislation – the voter-approved Proposition 57, which moved the final say on whether minors younger than 16 could be tried in adult courts from the DA’s office to the judge’s bench; and this year’s SB 1391, which Lewis and other judges have ruled extend the intent of the criminal justice reforms sought after under Proposition 57, including reducing the numbers of young people held in the state’s prisons.
Prosecutors from across the state, including Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, gathered in September as then-Gov. Brown mulled 1391, demanding its veto and calling it a threat to public safety.
Before Lewis in January, county prosecutor Casey Newton argued that the new law was a one-size-fits-all remedy that took decision-making out of the hands of judges.
“What 1391 takes away is your guidance,” Newton told Lewis in January. “There’s no way forward in cases like this.”
Meanwhile, Clavo said she is “formulating a game plan” to continue to fight the new law beyond the trial in her son’s killing.
“There are so many families who I say are victims of 1391. When we started, there was no Prop 57. Then comes 1391 thereafter,” Clavo said. “Now, we’re in the net of these laws.”