The District Attorney’s office is trying to figure out how an in-office mistake allowed three youth accused of murder to be released without bond this week.
Steve Tew, 4th District Attorney, said his office is taking the blame for a foul that resulted in three teenagers accused of murdering Hunter Adams to be released into the care of their parents, instead of being kept in the juvenile facility.
The fact that three accused murderers are at home, without bond or monitoring bracelets has caused a stir in the local community, but Tew says his office is backtracking trying to figure out what happened and taking steps to see that it doesn’t happen again.
This summer the Sheriff’s office began investigating the apparent murder of Hunter Adams in West Monroe. The evidence seemed to point to four teens ranging in age from 12 years old to fifteen. It was not long after that the teens were located and interrogated. Three of the youth reportedly confessed their roles in the incident that resulted in Adams’ murder; all three were initially charged with second-degree murder. The fourth teen did not appear to be a party to the crime and was not charged.
John Sanders, the Assistant District Attorney who handles juvenile matters, said the general practice is to have juvenile suspects arraigned in about a week. However, on extremely serious matters such as a murder, the DA’s office will take the full thirty days to examine the facts to be sure that suspects are charged with a crime that can be proven in court.
Laws for juveniles are completely different than for adults, including the terminology. For example, Juveniles are charged with “delinquent acts” instead of criminal acts. Juveniles have “adjudications” not trials. When an adjudication is over, a juvenile receives a “disposition” and not a sentence.
The law won’t allow a child to be held more than 30 days without being formally accused of a delinquent act. That’s why the three suspects were sent home, Sanders said.
Tew said evidence indicated that one or more of the youth may not have actually participated in killing Adams and had no intention of doing anything except robbing him. He said the evidence and confessions indicate that two of the three had no idea that Adams would be killed and the third suspect may have acted independently of the other two.
Sanders said his office wanted to be sure that the youth were properly charged and not accused of a crime that the evidence would not support.
State law requires juveniles who are accused of crimes to be formally charged within thirty days of their arrest otherwise the law says they must be released from custody. There are no qualifying situations.
The Louisiana Children’s Code Section 843 says:
“If a child is continued in custody prior to adjudication, the delinquency petition shall be filed within forty-eight hours of the hearing to determine continued custody. If no petition is filed within the applicable time period, the child shall be released.”
Sanders said although the law requires a juvenile to be charged in 48 hours, the lawyers for the defense and the DA’s office agreed to extend the charging time to 30 days to give time for fair evaluation and to avoid charging the youth as adults and placing the in an adult facility. Once they agreed on the extension, the thirty day limit replaced the 48-hour limit.
Sanders said while his office was reviewing the details of the suspected murder the police reports were ordered. However, when the report was received by his office all four youths names were listed in the same report, instead of an individual report for each suspect.
The top name on the report that was received was the name of the youth who was not charged, Sanders said. Since the usual procedure is for each suspect to have his own police report, someone in his office saw the top name and assumed that it was one of four reports and it was laid to the side, waiting on the remaining three. Since that person was not being charged the report was not calendared for an arraignment hearing.
The remaining three police reports never came. In the interim, Tew said Sanders became ill and was out of his office for a few days and no one caught the problem with the missing reports.
When the DA’s office appeared before Judge Sharon Marchman to bring charges against the three youth, there were no reports for each of them. The DA’s office could not officially charge them. without the necessary documentation. Because the DA’s office chose to use the full 30 days to review the complaints, the DA’s office ran out of time.
Judge Marchman had no choice, but to follow the law and order the youth’s release. However, she ordered them released into the custody of their parents with instructions that they are not to leave their home.
Sanders says they were not ordered to wear ankle bracelets because funds for the monitoring of the devices comes from a grant that had recently ran out.
He said Monday, October 16th, the youth will be formally charged, but even then they will still be released back to their parents until their trial because they were not arraigned within 30 days of their original arrest.
Tew said Sanders is an exemplary lawyer on his staff who will not be reprimanded for this blunder, but steps are being made to insure that it does not happen again. Sanders says since he is the head of his department the blame for any mixups ultimately falls on him, although he noted his office is trying to find out why it did not receive individual reports for each suspect which seems to be the source of the problem.
Sanders would not place the blame on anyone. “It’s my department, I accept full responsibility.” He said.
Tew said while the three suspects are at home he will move to bring the case to trial as quickly as possible. The law says if they are in state custody they must be tried in 30 days. Since they are not in state custody, the DA says they have up to 180 to bring the case to court.
“We expect to bring them to trial quickly to get them off the street. It’s obvious that all of them are guilty of something, and at least one of them is guilty of murder. We will bring it to court as quickly as possible,” Tew said.