Lutcher shocked by deaths

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 7, 2001


LUTCHER – The small town of Lutcher, which holds a population of 3,971, is unaccustomed to the violent crime larger cities sometimes see. An area jolted by this week’s double homicide that led investigators to suspect the couple’s teen-age son, the town is staggering from the news that two people were shot to death while sleeping in their home. Juvenile delinquency is not a new phenomenon in the nation or in the state. Though legal systems have distinguished between juvenile delinquents and adult criminals since ancient times, the first institution expressly for juveniles was founded in New York City in 1824 as the House of Refuge to keep juveniles separate from adults. Later, a system was developed throughout the country to protect juveniles from the harsh penalties adults receive. There are laws in place, though St. James Parish has had very little dealings with a juvenile crime of such a severe nature. The boy, at age 14, could be tried as an adult under Louisiana law, said 23rd Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Jody Amedee. Fourteen is the youngest a juvenile can be transferred to adult criminal court in Louisiana. Ryan Caldarera’s father and stepmother were found dead in their bedroom Thursday morning, though they were believed to be killed the night before. The couple’s 6-year-old daughter was left unharmed and was in the home with her parents’ bodies all night. According to Amedee, who prosecutes juvenile cases in Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes, the last juvenile case of such a serious nature involved a 16-year-old who participated in robbing Cajun Circus Casino. Though his adult companion shot and killed a guard, the juvenile was also tried as an adult. Amedee said that according to juvenile law there must be a hearing for the suspect within 72 hours to decide if he will be kept in custody or released to family. He added there is no way the Lutcher boy is going to be released, considering the magnitude of the crime. Almost at a loss for words, the assistant district attorney said, “This is a good community. The crime rate in St. James is usually nonviolent. I’m shocked. I would have to believe he has some kind of psychological problems.” Amedee said the boy has been in trouble before, and all problems were family-related. “There was never anything that suggested he was this violent, though,” he added. After the initial hearing a juvenile case goes to court, and the suspect makes his first appearance. An appointment for an arraignment date is made, though it is not termed arraignment’ in juvenile court. The juvenile either admits or denies the crime, but he does not plead. Afterwards, a trial date is set. No jury is used in juvenile cases. If one is convicted as a juvenile offender, the person would be released upon his 21st birthday. A juvenile case takes between two to six months from start to finish. A judicial waiver is the most commonly used method to move a juvenile to adult criminal court. In 15 states, including Louisiana, prosecutors can file certain types of juvenile cases in criminal court. About the Lutcher teen-ager, Amedee said, “This is a very unusual situation in St. James. We just don’t ever have this kind of stuff. Since he is 14, we’ll have to file a motion to transfer him, and I’m sure that’s what we’re going to do.” According to Amedee, Louisiana law states that a 14-year-old tried as an adult cannot be executed or sentenced to life in prison. Instead, if convicted, he must be released at age 31. On the other hand, if a 15-year-old is convicted, he can be executed. John Diasselliss, an assistant district attorney in St. John the Baptist Parish who handles juvenile cases, said, “The process with juveniles should always be to rehabilitate, but there’s a limit. If you cross it, it’s difficult to justify rehabilitation. Certain acts require the individual be locked up in an adult facility to protect society. When a kid kills his parents, he has to be really broken.” With the recent school shootings and the more and more frequent news of violent crime being committed by juveniles, the question of what makes young people become violent has been examined by professionals. Theories include social alienation, insufficient penalty for earlier misbehavior and lower socioeconomic status. However, researchers are learning that violence doesn’t just come from disadvantaged youths. More and more, society is seeing children from affluent homes commit violent crimes, suggesting that some form of social alienation may have contributed. Still, the phenomenon continues and questions linger. In the Lutcher case, the boy is from a working-class family and is said to have been a very quiet kid. Though he hasn’t been charged yet, he is being held at the St. James Parish jail in Convent to await a court hearing Monday afternoon.