NEW ORLEANS — Two families devastated by pain and tragedy filled opposite sides of a courtroom Tuesday for an emotional sentencing inside the New Orleans Juvenile Justice Center.
On one side, along with his family, was 21-year-old Darrelle Scott, paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair after being shot in the spine by an armed robber on March 26.
On the other side was the shooter and his family. Lynell Reynolds is only 13, but his guilty plea to attempted murder capped a year-long descent into criminal behavior in which racked up 15 separate cases in juvenile court including burglary, battery, riding in stolen cars and gun charges.
Reynolds and his attorneys were joined by teachers and counselors from his school, where his academic achievement and emotional connection to faculty members made a deep impression.
Reynolds‘ school success came despite unthinkable family tragedy: two older siblings – a brother and sister – killed by a schizophrenic uncle who then committed suicide. Then, about three years ago, another attack left Reynolds’ mother dead and his father brain-damaged.
Family, teachers, counselors pushed for no jail
“I can’t think of another kid, or an adult for that matter, who deserves another chance more than him,” one teacher testified on his behalf.
Two of Scott’s family members gave victim impact statements.
Scott’s grandfather, Charlie Harris, said, “This whole court has been about finding help for the perpetrator, not finding help for the victim.”
“My grandson has been paralyzed for the rest of his life,” he continued. “We’ve got someone who’s never going to get well.”
Scott’s grandmother, Dorothy White, said, “Darrelle is the one with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)…But he’s determined to fight. Darrelle never complained, even though his life and his family’s life have been changed forever.”
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Before issuing Reynolds’ sentence, Judge Candice Bates-Anderson noted that there would be no winners, whatever penalty she decided upon.
“We have one child going to jail at age 13 and we have another child who will never walk again,” she said.
Reynolds’ faced “juvenile life,” meaning he could be locked up until he’s 21. Bates-Anderson decided on a modified version of juvenile life Reynolds’ could be released when he turns 17 if he obtains a diploma, learns two trades and stays trouble-free in jail.
“Mr. Reynolds has come before me on all kinds of charges. And I gave Mr. Reynolds a second chance,” the judge said. “That revolving door didn’t work for you, Mr. Reynolds.”
Bates-Anderson ordered trauma-focused psychiatric counseling for Reynolds’ during his incarceration. She openly questioned why more wasn’t for the youngster sooner, especially after the most recent warning signs of criminal behavior.
“Where were all of you?” Bates-Anderson asked. “We all missed the boat.”
DA: He likes to read, but also likes to shoot people
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro echoed the judge’s concern for the lack of help provided to Reynolds.
In an emailed statement, Cannizzaro said, “As I said after this violent teen offender was found guilty of attempted murder in July, there are no winners here. His family, schools and city social services systems did not support this teen as we would have liked. But other teens in similar situations don’t put guns in their hands at age 13 and decide to shoot people for not giving up a dollar.”
Cannizzaro also had sharp words for the Reynolds’ supporters who advocated for treatment instead of jail.
“They exalted this defendant because he likes to read, while ignoring that he also likes to shoot people,” he wrote.
Scott’s family was disappointed, but accepting, of the sentence. But there was one dissent from that position, Scott himself.
“I'm glad that justice was served,” he said after wheeling himself down the sidewalk in front of the court. “I hope he gets the help he needs. And I'm finally past everything that happened.”
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