Teen suspects in N.O. rape to learn if they’ll be tried as adults

Two teenagers accused of raping a Garden District woman earlier this week during a robbery and kidnapping will find out if they will be tried as adults next week.

Judge Amy Kern granted attorneys representing Sheldon Jefferson, 15, and Joseph Davis, 16, a delay until Monday morning before she rules on whether there is probable cause to hold both defendants on armed robbery, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape charges.

Kern made the ruling Friday after court-appointed attorneys Greg Lewis and Peter Hamilton asked for the delay in order to review their clients’ cases. If probable cause is found on the rape and kidnapping charges, both teenagers would be immediately sent to Orleans Parish Criminal Court to be tried as adults, and they could face as much as 60 years in state prison.

The two juveniles are accused of kidnapping, robbing and raping a 30-year-old woman on Feb. 4 as she was getting out of her car in front of her home on Eighth Street.

Police also have arrested Christopher Davis, 18, for aggravated rape, aggravated battery and armed robbery in the case. Davis was booked as an adult and is being held on more than $1.5 million bond.

Joseph Davis and Christopher Davis are not related.

Lewis said he needs time to review his client’s case to see if there are any challenges that need to be made to the probable cause provided for Jefferson’s arrest.

Jefferson turned himself in at the urging of his mother shortly after police released a photo taken from an ATM during the alleged robbery.

Hours after New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas announced Jefferson’s arrest, police arrested the other suspects.

Lewis noted that if probable cause is found, state law mandates that the juvenile suspects be handled as adults by the court system because of the severity of the charges against them. He acknowledged that Jefferson’s decision to turn himself in does impact the proceedings.

“It makes it very difficult to challenge probable cause,” Lewis said.

In addition, court records show that after Jefferson’s mother brought him to police, he confessed to police his involvement in the crimes. According to Magistrate Court records, Jefferson told police that he and the other suspects picked up the victim in front of her home at gunpoint, and then drove her to multiple ATMs so they could withdraw money using her credit card.

While they were driving through the neighborhood, the teenagers raped the victim multiple times, according to the court records. They then threw her out of a moving vehicle back in her neighborhood, the records state. Jefferson also implicated the other suspects in the crime.

Serpas called the crime “ruthless” and “terrible” on Thursday, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu said it’s the type of incident that will not be tolerated in New Orleans.

Serpas also praised the work of detectives who he said worked around the clock to find the suspects. He added that although Jefferson is facing several decades in prison, his family made the right choice in turning him in to police. Jefferson’s mother was at court but did not speak to the media.

“A message to the relatives of the 15-year-old suspect who encouraged him to turn himself in: Please know that you did the right thing. Thank you,” Serpas said in a release.

Lewis said the juvenile court system is designed to give juveniles a chance at rehabilitation because of the idea that children are still capable of change. However, those options are more limited when the accusations are so severe.

“I believe we need to afford them a chance at saving themselves, even if the mistake they’ve made may be really rough,” Lewis said.

The case has attracted massive media attention and resident support, Serpas has noted. Police received numerous tips from the public about the crime, and he and Landrieu praised citizen involvement. The crime shocked the victim’s quiet Garden District neighborhood both for its savageness and random nature.

Francesca Brennan, a friend of the victim, described the community as very safe and close-knit. She said the victim appears to be handling the ordeal well.