Opinion

He was convicted of killing J.J. Clavo, but might walk free in 4 years. How is that justice?

A mother’s tribute to her slain son, J.J. Clavo

At a memorial at Grant High School marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of her son, Grant football star J.J. Clavo, Nicole Clavo shares a message with friends and supporters.
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At a memorial at Grant High School marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of her son, Grant football star J.J. Clavo, Nicole Clavo shares a message with friends and supporters.

In theory, a relatively new California law barring the prosecution of youths under 16 in adult court is an idea worthy of debate. But we’re passed the debate phase, this is the law and because of it, a young man who perpetrated one of the most brazen and heinous murders in recent Sacramento history will walk free in less than four years.

His name is Keymontae Lindsey and on Monday, he was found guilty of first-degree murder. His victim was Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo, a 17-year-old student and football player at Grant High School.

Lindsey gunned down Clavo in broad daylight at a busy intersection in north Sacramento. He unloaded his weapon into a car full of young men.

Clavo was hit in the chest and the neck. He died as his friends looked on. If Lindsey had been 16 instead of 15, he would likely be facing 65 years to life. But instead, the now 19-year-old will be released when he is 23.

Is that justice? Not in this case, no. It’s a travesty.

Opinion

We have proof here of overreach by liberal California politicians who were trying to push back against conservative prosecutors across the state. But they pushed too far.

They placed ideology over common sense. Each murder in California is different, just as each suspect is different. But the problem here is a one-size-fits all law that says no one under 16 shall be prosecuted as an adult no matter how horrific the crime.

And the murder of Clavo was horrific. It was unspeakable. It was carried out on Nov. 13, 2015 at the intersection of Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street. Clavo was a gregarious young man, loved by his mother Nicole and his entire family. He was handsome and was hopeful of a great future.

He wasn’t even the target that day. His friend Malik Johnson was.

Johnson was siting in the front passenger seat next to Clavo in Clavo’s prized Chevy Malibu that his mom had bought for him.

The killer – then 15-year-old Lindsey – was gunning for Johnson, authorities said. The motive was described as hostilities between rival gangs.

Johnson was hit in the arm, but lived. Clavo was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was just fate, dumb luck, the worst luck. One moment he’s driving to get Popeye’s chicken with his friends before a Grant High football game, and then he’s dead.

This case took so long to get to trial that before it had, California had passed SB 1391 – which essentially forbids prosecutors from trying youths under 16 as adults. Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1391 into law last October. It was authored by State Sens. Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara, who is now state insurance commissioner.

Brown, Mitchell and Lara all had the best of intentions. State “tough on crime laws” of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s were particularly horrible to kids of color. Trumped-up gang enhancements sent too many kids to prison for ridiculous sentences.

All this is true.

But for every rule, there is an exception and the Clavo case isn’t even the only exception in the Sacramento. A horrific case in Davis, in which 15-year-old Daniel Marsh brutally murdered an elderly couple and mutilated their bodies, is another. Marsh was sentenced to life in prison before SB 1391. On Tuesday, Yolo County prosecutors confirmed that he has filed an appeal in the hopes that 1391 will be applied to his case, which would mean release from incarceration while he is still in his 20s.

The hope behind 1391 is that youths under 16 who kill can still be rehabilitated. Lindsey’s lawyer told me on Monday that he hopes his client can be.

We’re going to find out in less than four years. I hope Lindsey can be rehabilitated. Everyone hopes that. But there are no guarantees. And if he or other killers released early because of 1391 continue to kill or hurt people, then we need to remember that Brown, Mitchell and Lara went too far to make this law.

It takes frightening inhumanity to take a life. There is no turning back from that, no making it up, no do-overs. Regardless of the age of the killer, a sentence of a few years is a slap in the face to the people left devastated by their actions.

Brown, Mitchell and Lara obviously didn’t care about that, to the detriment of all of us.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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