JERSEY CITY - A Superior Court judge is expected to decide on Friday whether a slain teen's criminal record should be given to the attorney representing the man charged with the 17-year-old's death.
Daequan Jackson, 18, is charged with fatally shooting Leander Williams during a party held inside a church hall on Aug. 9. Two young girls attending the party were also injured when the gunfire erupted.
Defense attorney Joseph Russo is arguing Williams' juvenile records should be allowed into trial for a number of reasons, "namely that certain aspects of the victim's juvenile record/character are already in the public domain as revealed by the Mayor of Jersey City," according to court records.
Hours after Williams was gunned down, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Public Safety Director Jim Shea held a press conference at Berry Lane Park where they addressed the teen's murder. Williams had not yet been identified as the victim, but the mayor said the 17-year-old was carrying a loaded gun.
"He slandered my son's name," Williams' mother, Hessie, recently told The Jersey Journal. "Mayor Fulop slandered my son before he was even in the grave."
Asked whether he should have discussed a juvenile's criminal record, Fulop said in a statement the city believes "every person should be given an opportunity to change their lives for the better."
"We set up a re-entry program for this," the mayor said. "Any time there is a loss of life in the city, we all mourn and it is a collective loss for everyone."
Two stories published by The Jersey Journal are admitted as evidence indicating that in some aspects, Williams' juvenile record has already been made public. One of those stories also quotes his mother saying the 17-year-old did have a history of gun arrests.
But for Hessie Williams, who discussed her son's death at a press conference in January, she said she has spoken about the teen's history of gun arrests hoping there can be a unified force to find a way to stop illegal guns from entering Jersey City communities.
"The sad part about it is I can't even speak to my community the way I want to because they are taking my words and turning it around," the mother said, wearing a photo of her son around her neck.
For a mother who tried helping her son in any way possible, gun violence doesn't always "start at home," she said.
"I'm so tired of hearing that," she said. "As soon as kids walk out the door they have their own mindset."
Meanwhile, Russo is also seeking Williams' records because the state's discovery found that self-defense "is in this case" and the records would be valuable as "part of (the) defendant's self-defense claim."
The Hudson County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment because the matter is pending trial.
Kevin Callahan, a former Superior Court judge and professor of criminal justice at Saint Peter's University, said judges are not swayed by press coverage when they are ruling in a case.
When a judge is asked to open a juvenile's records, the defense attorney or prosecutor must prove that the files they are requesting are relevant to the case, Callahan said, not speaking specifically about Jackson's hearing.
"A judge is not prone to open just on demand (records) of a sealed juvenile," he said.
Jackson is expected to be in court at 1:30 p.m. Friday before Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez.
Caitlin Mota may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @caitlin_mota. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook.
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