Decision delayed on whether to try Garden District rape suspects as adults

Conflict possible for rape suspects

A dispute about which attorneys should represent two New Orleans teenagers accused in a high-profile rape last week has delayed a decision on whether they will be tried as adults until at least Ash Wednesday.

Probable cause hearings for Sheldon Jefferson, 15, and Joseph Davis, 16, were supposed to be held Monday in Orleans Parish Juvenile Court after the teenagers were accused of participating in the rape of a Garden District woman during a robbery Feb. 4.

The teenagers have been booked with aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping and armed robbery.

If probable cause is found for those charges, they automatically will be transferred to Orleans Parish Criminal Court to be tried as adults.

Both teenagers arrived at court on Monday with shackles on their hands and feet, as their parents looked on.

Judge Amy Kern said she will decide Wednesday whether there is probable cause to keep the youths in custody.

The teenagers are accused of kidnapping a 30-year-old woman from in front of her home, forcing her to drive to different ATMs and raping her in the car.

Police also arrested Christopher Davis, 18, in the case. Police said Jefferson, who was turned in by his mother, confessed to the crime and implicated Jefferson and Joseph Davis, who is not related.

The delay is tied to a legal dispute over how the teenagers would be best represented without any conflicts of interest. A challenge was filed with the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans late Friday.

Last week, Kern appointed attorneys from the Juvenile Court’s conflict panel to represent the teenagers during their initial court appearance. That panel typically handles cases of indigent defenders when Juvenile Regional Services, the public defender’s office for juveniles, is barred from handling them because of ethical or staffing issues.

JRS challenged Kern’s decision, arguing that it should have represented Jefferson, while Joseph Davis was sent to the conflict panel.

Assistant District Attorney Ralph Brandt said the judge determined that given the close relationship between JRS and the Orleans Parish public defender’s office, an attorney from the conflict panel should be appointed.

That alleged relationship could create a conflict because the Orleans Parish public defender’s office represents Christopher Davis.

Co-defendants cannot be represented by attorneys from the same law firm, and there was a concern that the teenagers might not get an independent attorney.

But in its filing, JRS argued that it was wholly separate from the public defender’s office and was perfectly capable of representing Jefferson or Joseph Davis. A hearing on the case was set for Wednesday, but a deal may be worked out by then.

Davis’ family has hired attorney Robert Jenkins to represent him. Jenkins declined to comment Monday, as did relatives of the two teenagers. If convicted, the three suspects could face as much as 60 years in prison.The rape shocked the quiet neighborhood where the woman lived and garnered widespread media attention.