Convicted at 17, Angola inmate from New Orleans gets chance at parole

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Emily Lane of The Times-Picayune reports that Shon Williams was 17 when he fired 10 shots in a Bywater schoolyard in 1993, taking the life of 15-year-old student Gerald Dordain, according to the jury that convicted him in 1994 of the murder.

On Wednesday (Aug. 24), Williams, now 40, wore an orange jumpsuit and rimless eyeglasses as he stood in front of a New Orleans judge while his attorney made a case for why he deserved to someday have a chance to walk free (NOLA.com).

Orleans Criminal District Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier ruled Wednesday that Williams, who has spent most of his life in prison, deserves a shot at parole, though that likely won’t come for many years. His previous sentence offered no such hope (NOLA.com).

Williams did not deny firing the fatal shots at the time of the trial or in court Wednesday (NOLA.com).

The reason he took the long ride from Angola to the courthouse on Tulane Avenue and Broad Street more than two decades after another judge sentenced him to life without parole was a 2012 Supreme Court decision (NOLA.com).

The landmark decision, Miller vs. Alabama, found mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders — like Williams received for his second-degree murder conviction — to be cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. It would take another ruling, handed down just this past January, to determine the decision applied retroactively to lifers like Williams, whose sentences precluded the possibility of parole prior the Miller vs. Alabama decision (NOLA.com).

The High Court’s ruling instructs judges to reconsider life sentences of juvenile offenders in light of new testimony about the convict’s youth and other circumstances surrounding the case. Life sentences without a chance at parole should be reserved only for “incorrigible” offenders who are “incapable” of being rehabilitated, according the Supreme Court advised (NOLA.com).

Williams attorney Kristen Rome said Wednesday that with more than two decades between Williams and his teenage years, the best evidence he deserves a chance at early release was what he has done with his time behind bars (NOLA.com).

Norris Henderson, an advocate for prison and prisoner re-entry reform whose work makes him a regular fixture in the halls of the Orleans Criminal District Courthouse, testified that Williams has been rehabilitated. Henderson first met Williams at Angola 18 years ago, he testified. He told Williams then, “You can serve time or let time serve you.” And Williams heard the message, he said (NOLA.com).

In the last two decades, Williams became a certified sign language interpreter, Henderson. He followed in Henderson’s footsteps by becoming a librarian at Angola. Rome said Williams has a creative writing portfolio, has participated in poetry events at the prison and he regularly volunteers at the prison’s hospice program (NOLA.com).

“It’s not a job, it’s a calling,” said Henderson of Williams’ hospice work (NOLA.com).

Of the approximately 6,000 prisoners at Angola, Williams is among less than a hundred who is a statewide trustee, Henderson and Rome noted. Rome read a note from Williams’ dormitory supervisor at Angola, a master sergeant who said she considered Williams ready to re-enter society and would feel safe if he moved into her neighborhood. Henderson said Williams started volunteering in the hospice program and teaching himself new skills a decade or more ago, long before he could know the Supreme Court would open the door to the possibility of parole (NOLA.com).

Victim’s family still in pain

Details of the more than two-decades-old murder recited Wednesday by Assistant District Attorney Christopher Ponoroff reminded the judge why the model prisoner stood before her. A brawl broke out May 27, 1993, Ponoroff said, in the yard of what was then called Francis T. Nicholls High School. Several students were involved. Ponoroff said Williams drew a gun and fired a shot into the air. He fired several more shots, and ultimately killed Dordain, resulting in his conviction (NOLA.com).

Since the early 1990s, Nicholls High had changed names twice. A few years after the murder on campus, its named changed to Frederick Douglass High School. Students today who attend the school in the 3800 block of St. Claude Avenue now graduate from KIPP Renaissance High School. Through all those changes, Dordain’s mother is still without her son (NOLA.com).

If you or a family member are facing legal difficulties, please call us at 504-522-7260. We offer free initial consultations with our clients in mind.

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