Youth to face murder trial

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 11, 2001


LUTCHER – Officers closed off the second-floor balcony Monday at the Convent courthouse as 14-year-old Ryan Caldarera, charged with two counts of first-degree murder, sat through his first court hearing. Caldarera faces trial for the murder of his father, Victor “Sonny” Caldarera Jr., and his stepmother, Tracy Caldarera. During the closed 10-minute hearing 23rd Judicial District Judge John Peytavin decided there was probable cause to continue holding Caldarera on the charges. He was returned to the St. James Youth Detention Center with no bond set, and no date set for Caldarera’s next court appearance. According to Peytavin, Caldarera is allowed an appeal for bond, though his defending attorney, Dale Petit, has not yet filed. In juvenile cases the child can be turned over to a parent or legal guardian, but considering the severity of the crime and the charge of two counts of first-degree murder, “I don’t see any chance he will be released,” said St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. Now that the probable cause hearing has been completed, both the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department will continue their investigation and sort through the information already received. District Attorney Tony Falterman now has to decide whether to prosecute Caldarera as an adult or as a juvenile. According to Louisiana law, a 15-year-old can be tried as an adult and receive maximum punishment. But Caldarera won’t turn 15 until July, so if he is tried and convicted as an adult there is a mandatory release age at 31. If he is tried and convicted as a juvenile, he can only be imprisoned until he turns 21 years of age. Before deciding how to continue the prosecution, Falterman’s office will investigate Caldarera’s personal background, history with the family and any prior criminal record, said Tommy Kliebert, assistant district attorney. In the sheriff’s department, the investigation continues, Martin said. “There are more individuals we want to talk with,” he added. Over the weekend, the house where the shootings occurred was turned back over to the family, and items possibly pertaining to the murders were taken by the department to aid the investigation. “We believe we have found the murder weapon,” Martin revealed, saying a ballistics report points to a 22-caliber rifle being the weapon used. The rifle was found in the Jeep Cherokee Caldarera was driving when apprehended. A further search of the Jeep turned up five weapons and camping gear. “It appears he was preparing to leave town,” the sheriff added. Hunting-type weapons and other evidence in the house indicated that Victor Caldarera and his son were avid hunters, Martin said. Investigators found a sleeping bag, clothing, cooking gear, snacks and other items in the Jeep that led them to believe Caldarera was planning to hide out. The sheriff’s department is also questioning friends of Caldarera’s who attended school with him at Lutcher Junior High School. Martin said there were rumors circulating of Caldarera bragging about what he was planning beforehand. He said Caldarera also may have returned to Lutcher Junior High afterward to tell his account of the shooting to friends. “We ask our teachers to do a lot, but what could one have done in this situation?” said St. James Parish Superintendent Edward Cancienne. That is the question the school system is currently asking itself as it gathers more information on what it could do to prevent such a situation. Signs of disorders and any other indication of instability a student may show are being researched. “We are meeting with the school staff on every issue, what we did right, what we did not so right and what we could do better,” said Cancienne. Word of what Caldarera may have planned never reached staff ears at Lutcher Junior High. If something like that is heard of, administrators are called and they decide if or which agency needs to be contacted, added Cancienne. Currently student counselors and staff are actively searching out and helping any student that needs assistance or is having trouble dealing with the alleged crime by a fellow student.