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'Counseling is not going to bring justice' | DA Jason Williams defends murder indictment against 15-year-old suspects

Prosecutors will argue that Growe and Thomas tried to steal LeViege's car, but took off after fatally shooting her and her dog.

NEW ORLEANS — Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams is doubling down amid criticism of his decision to try a pair of 15-year-olds as adults for a January murder during a botched carjacking. 

In an interview with WWL-TV's Sheba Turk, Williams said he was trying to send a message to young criminals by breaking his 2020 campaign promise to not try juveniles as adults -- but not the obvious "tough on crime" one. 

RELATED: Transcript: DA Jason Williams defends murder indictment against 15-year-old suspects

Que'dyn Growe and Demond Thomas, both 15, face second-degree murder and armed robbery charges in adult court for the death of Anita Irvin-LeViege, who was killed while delivering food to family members on Jan. 3. 

Prosecutors will argue that Growe and Thomas tried to steal LeViege's car, but took off after fatally shooting her and her dog before succeeding in a separate carjacking a short distance away.

Williams has posited a theory that adults were bankrolling at least some of the gangs of young carjackers that have dominated the conversation about crime in New Orleans in recent months. He didn't draw a direct connection between these adult orchestrators and the pair accused of murder, but said their prosecution would send a message to both them and the teens they use to commit crimes. 

These adults, according to Williams, "dupe" teens by telling them that they'll be out of prison in a few years if they're caught and convicted, and that their families will be taken care of in the meantime. 

“Young people are getting money from this," he said. "This is not random lawlessness for the sake of lawlessness. And this money is coming from adults.”

The district attorney did not provide any specific cases to back up his assertion that an organized group was behind some of New Orleans' recent carjacking sprees.

Williams said he hoped to curb some of this behavior through the prosecution of the two teens. If fewer teenagers believe they'll receive light punishments for violent crimes, fewer would be willing to take the supposed ringleaders up on their offers. 

But some community groups pushed back against the move, saying the DA's office was aiming at the wrong people. They pushed for counseling and other intervention-based solutions for juvenile offenders. 

"Then we need to go after those adults and hold them accountable. I don't think it's appropriate to send a message to adults by treating children more harshly," said Aaron Clark-Rizzio with the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights. "The DA's decision is more of the same. We've tried this and it hasn't made our city safer so what we need to do is be investing in our children and investing in solutions."

Williams, in a direct response Wednesday to the LCCR's alternate prosecution plan, said his office was concerned about giving justice to LeViege's family. 

"Counseling is not going to bring justice in this case," Williams said. "The limitations of the juvenile justice system could mean that these individuals could serve as little as three or five years in jail for taking a woman’s life, for shooting several high-powered rounds into her. And that is simply not justice."

But Williams, who pledged to make sweeping changes to the criminal justice system in Orleans Parish after the hardball approach to charging teenagers followed by his predecessor Leon Cannizzaro, had a pessimistic warning about the number of juvenile crimes in the city as he doubled down on his new prosecution strategy.

 “This is important. This is important for an example that is being set for other young people that are going to be going through a very difficult summer," Williams said, adding that the upcoming months are “probably going to be the toughest summer in the city of New Orleans.”

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