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Jeremy Burse, convicted of fatally shooting his friend during a botched robbery when he was 15 years old, avoided a life sentence for murder Friday (Dec. 1) after prosecutors and defense attorneys struck a mediated deal to lessen his penalty.

Burse, his family and the family of his victim, Anthony Davis, convened to work out what Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue called the first agreement of its kind at Orleans Criminal District Court reducing the life sentence of a man convicted of murder as a juvenile. The sentencing deal was delivered following what was described as an emotional Friday morning meeting between the families.

They decided with attorneys that Burse should be given a second chance later in life. Burse pleaded guilty Friday (Dec. 1) to an amended charge of manslaughter as well as an agreed-to sentence of 25 years in prison.

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“I’m at the point where everything is out of control for me,” said Gilda Davis, the mother of Anthony Davis, who was 16 when he was killed by a ricocheted bullet fired from Burse’s gun. “I just trust in God.”

At trial in 2013, a New Orleans jury found Burse guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2016 by Judge Byron C. Williams, a decision that faced extra scrutiny because of a landmark 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision barring mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders.

Judge Williams opted for the maximum sentence despite having the option to hand Burse a lesser punishment. The move startled some criminal justice advocates.

Less startled was Gilda Davis, who, at the time, saw justice in the Burse’s sentence.

“I know none of this is going to bring my baby back,” Davis said in 2016 following the sentencing hearing. “But I do feel we have some justice.”

On Friday, Gilda Davis’ view had changed.

After a morning meeting with Burse that those present described as tear-filled and remorseful, Davis entered Judge Williams’ courtroom Friday alongside several of Burse’s family members.

Standing before the judge, Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue, who heads the restorative justice unit for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr.’s office, and defense attorney Christopher Murrell asked Williams to accept a motion for a new trial and sentencing in Burse’s case. Burse, they said, would plead guilty to an amended charge of manslaughter as well as an agreed-to sentence of 25 years in prison.

Accepting those terms, Williams gave Burse a new 25-year sentence for manslaughter with credit for time served.

Burse was permitted to join his family members for a brief reunion in the courtroom before returning to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Amid hugs and tears, Burse met Gilda Davis in the crowd. They embraced.

“I have kids,” Davis said outside the courtroom Friday, noting that she now cares for her dead son’s 6-year-old daughter. “I can’t continue to harbor anger anymore.”

Still, Davis said she was surprised by Friday’s outcome. Arriving at the courthouse earlier that morning, Davis said she thought a new trial for Burse might be ordered instead.

“It’s just so hard,” she said. “I came here not expecting this to happen, actually.”

Davis said Burse offered a tearful apology Friday morning when she met with him, their first meeting since 2010. Davis said she is unsure Burse will be reformed by the end of his new prison sentence. 

What is clear, Davis said, is that nothing will bring her son back.

“My child paid dearly with his life,” she said. “He paid the ultimate.”

For Rodrigue, the successful mediation of Burse’s case is among a handful of cases mediated over the past year or so in a push for more restorative justice results. Last September, Rodrigue worked with defense attorneys to mediate a manslaughter plea for 39-year-old Cornell Augustine, who faced a potential life sentence for killing a man outside a 7th Ward bar in 2015.

But Burse, Rodrigue said Friday, is the first case in which mediation with a victim’s family has altered a juvenile murder sentence. Plea negotiations had been underway for some time, Rodrigue said, particularly after Burse’s attorney, Christopher Murrell, executive director of the Promise of Justice Initiative, filed an appeal in the 4th District Court of Appeals that was later remanded to Orleans Criminal District Court.

Rodrigue said Friday the mediation path makes sense for a close-knit community like New Orleans, but stressed the process should only be used for very select cases.

“This case involved two boys who were very close friends and made very stupid mistakes,” Rodrigue said in a statement. “Their families knew each other and had been trying to keep their sons on the right path. Both families suffered devastating losses through the actions of both the defendant and the victim.”

Source: nola.com

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