DA Jason Williams at a press conference in 2021. (Nick Chrastil/The Lens)

Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams announced on Monday that he would be charging two 15-year-olds for second-degree murder in adult court for the killing of a 52-year-old woman — going back on a campaign promise never to try juveniles in adult court.

Williams said that his office had secured a grand jury indictment of Que’dyn Growe, and Demond Thomas for the January murder of Anita Irvin-LeViege, who was shot in her car while delivering food to family members in eastern New Orleans. If convicted, the teenagers could be sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 25 years. 

“The limitations of the juvenile sentencing guidelines would be inadequate in holding young people accountable for heinous crimes,” Williams said at a press conference announcing the decision. “And we refuse to send a message to young people engaging in criminal activity that murders by juveniles will receive less scrutiny and less accountability.”

The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, which serves as the juvenile public defender in New Orleans, put out a statement saying they were “disappointed” in Williams’ decision to go back on his campaign promise. 

“While we respect the gravity of the alleged offenses and the loss of a life, the research is unequivocal: children prosecuted in adult court are more likely to reoffend than kids who remain in the juvenile system,” the statement read. “Children are also more likely to be sexually abused, physically assaulted, and to die by suicide when imprisoned in an adult facility. Transferring children to adult court is never developmentally appropriate.”

While some other candidates running for DA last fall said they would rarely try juveniles as adults, they recognized there could be some exceptions. Former Criminal District Court judge Arthur Hunter, who ran for DA but was defeated in the primary, for instance, said he would never charge anyone under the age of 16 as an adult under any circumstance, and that for juveniles over the age of 16 he would only do it in the most egregious cases. Keva Landrum, who Williams defeated in the run-off election said that she would only transfer juveniles to adult court except in “extreme circumstances.” 

But Williams was the only one who pledged never to do it — one of the ways in which he separated himself from Landrum and Hunter and became seen  by many as the most progressive candidate in the race. He was the only candidate who two criminal justice reform advocacy organizations — Platform for Youth Justice and the People’s DA Coalition — represented as having signed off to the portion of their platforms that stipulated that a DA should never prosecute a juvenile as an adult. 

In response to a questionnaire put out by the Platform for Youth Justice, Williams’ even went beyond that pledge, saying that he would “lobby at the state and national level to eradicate laws that allow kids to be treated as adults to protect children outside of my jurisdiction.”

Williams frequently spoke of the fact that young people have brains that are not fully developed, and thus need to be treated differently than adults. 

But on Monday, during the press conference and in a press release, Williams emphasized the details of the crime that he said warranted prosecution in adult court — including the use of “multiple-rounds of high-powered ammunition,” the fact that the woman was taking care of her aging parents, and that NOPD suspected the two youths in an armed robbery less than an hour after the murder. 

Williams also warned that in other cities, juveniles are being coerced into committing violent crime under the pretense that they will get shorter sentences, creating a “cottage industry of young killers.” 

“I will not allow that to occur in this city,” Williams said in a press release. At the press conference Monday, however, Williams would not respond directly to questions about whether or not in this case the juveniles had been coerced by adults to commit the crime. 

Aaron Clark-Rizzio, director of Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, told The Lens that beyond the DA’s decision to prosecute juveniles as adults, he also found the rhetoric used to justify the decision troubling.

“It’s disappointing to hear the language of this ‘cottage industry of child killers,’” Clark-Rizzio said. “It’s calling children killers, and not seeing them as children who may have done very, very damaging and harmful things. But it also is very reminiscent of the sort of rhetoric that was used around ‘super-predators’ — mainly to criminalize and villainize Black children. And so I don’t think that language belongs in this discussion.”

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...