Youthful offenders get lessons on adult crime, punishment

Torey Lassaint

Standing before Jefferson County Criminal District Court Judge John Stevens on Monday, Nov. 7, high school senior Torey Lassaint pleaded for the court’s mercy as he faced decades behind bars for taking a man hostage, robbing him, assaulting him and leaving him in terror after a night of savagery. But this followed a pattern of criminality that kicked off after scores of juvenile arrests in 18-year-old Lassaint’s brief history, which weighed heavy on the court, making a light sentence an impossibility, according to the ruling from the bench.

Lassaint had worked out a deal with prosecutors — the maximum penalty on the aggravated robbery charge at 25 years in prison with the possibility of probation, should the judge be so inclined. Lassaint’s attorney asked the judge on behalf of his client for punishment on the lower end of the scale – preferably something that would send the teen home after court. That dream would be dashed as Stevens proceeded to sentence Lassaint to the maximum term allowed under the plea agreement.

According to the judgment, not only would Lassaint serve 25 years in prison, but he would do so with a deadly weapon charge enhancement on the record to ensure that the defendant serves at least half of the prison sentence. And that sentence would run concurrent with a 10-year prison sentence for assaulting a public servant in an unrelated crime committed around the same time as the aggravated robbery.

“You can’t unring this bell,” Stevens told the defendant, who was pleading for another chance to live a free life. “I just wish I had you earlier – before this – when you were free-falling as a juvenile. Now, this isn’t juvenile court.”

Mariah Thibodeaux, 19, in court the same day for an aggravated robbery charge dating back to January of this year, couldn’t even address her current issue before she encountered another. Obviously under the influence of something, Judge Stevens decided, Thibodeaux was subjected to drug testing before he would consider her case. As suspected, Thibodeaux’s test was dirty and she was taken into custody for transfer to the county jail.

“Consider your bond revoked and doubled,” Stevens ruled, placing a $120,000 bond on the defendant and further ordering Thibodeaux to secure a constant drug monitoring device for use on bond should she make bail at its current rate.

“This is just not acceptable,” he said.

“The worst part of this job,” Stevens remarked from his vantage point of having to make the hard decisions, “is having to deal with the poor choices of young people that weren’t dealt with sooner.”

Next door, in County Court at Law No. 2, 17-year-old Daman Stanford was on a similar path judging by similar reprimands made by presiding Judge Cory Crenshaw.

According to evidence offered in court, Stanford faced a May terroristic threat against a public servant charge stemming from an incident where the teen entered a classroom (where he was not a student) and began to cause a disruption.

“I’m going to punch you in the f-ing mouth,” the probable cause affidavit reports Stanford telling the educator once he was removed from the classroom, before he followed her back into the classroom and again tried to physically confront the public employee.

For this offense, Stanford pleaded guilty and was offered a deal of nine months of deferred probation, 40 hours of community service, and a $200 fine. In addition, the judge tacked on the maximum amount of jail time allowed for the crime, 60 days, and ordered the juvenile to have no contact with the victim or witnesses at the alternative school he was attending at the time of his crime.

Stanford must serve the 60-day sentence day for day, and will not be eligible to be released from the county jail until Jan. 8, 2017.

While Stanford lamented that the jail time would keep him behind bars for the holidays, Crenshaw was adamant that the offender would get more out of careful reflection than a visit from Santa Claus – especially considering the defendant is on juvenile probation for a very similar crime already.

“I suggest you use this time to think about your choices, and how you act to people, and how you treat people,” he said. “If not, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in jail in the future.”

•••

After further reflection, Stevens said, he decided to allow 18-year-old Lassaint one more chance at a life outside the prison walls. Brought back to court two days after his original sentencing, Lassaint’s punishment was reduced to 20 years in prison without the weapon enhancement finding – meaning the defendant will be eligible for parole in just a couple of years, rather than the 12-plus minimum he was facing.

“You need to do better than you have been doing,” Stevens remarked.

Lassaint promised to change his ways.

“I want to better myself, finish school,” he said. “I’m really not a bad person; I make bad choices.”

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