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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
March 5, 2024

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Eight Las Vegas high-schoolers face murder charges in their classmate’s death

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LAS VEGAS — Eight Las Vegas high school students between the ages of 13 and 17 years old were arrested on murder charges in the beating death of a schoolmate that was captured on cellphone video and widely share across social media.

Jonathan Lewis Jr., 17, was hospitalized with severe head trauma and other injuries after the Nov. 1 attack and died a week later, according to police.

The fight appeared to be over a pair of headphones and a vape pen, police said, and the students had agreed to walk to an alleyway around the corner from campus to fight after classes ended for the day at Rancho High School in eastern Las Vegas.

Here’s what to know about the case:

WHAT’S NEW IN THE INVESTIGATION?

Authorities arrested the eight students Tuesday on suspicion of murder. But they believe at least 10 students took part in the beating.

Police on Wednesday released images of two students taken from cellphone video of the fight and asked for the public’s help in identifying them. Homicide Lt. Jason Johansson said the two will also face murder charges.

A police spokesperson said Thursday morning that there were no updates on additional arrests.

WILL THE TEENAGERS BE CHARGED AS ADULTS?

In Nevada, a teenager accused of murder can be charged as an adult if they were 13 or older at the time of the alleged crime.

By law, teenagers 16 or older accused in a killing are automatically transferred to the adult court system. That’s why a family court judge on Wednesday transferred the cases of four of the eight students, who are all 16 or 17.

None of the students who were arrested have been formally charged, and The Associated Press is not naming them.

WHO DECIDES IF THE TEENS ARE CHARGED AS ADULTS?

Hearings known as certification proceedings will be held at later dates to determine if the students under 16 will be charged as adults.

David Tanenhaus, history and law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said this case highlights the importance of having a process in place for handling homicide cases involving young defendants.

“The certification hearing is an adversarial setting,” he said. “The juvenile will have an attorney, who will make the argument that this kid is amenable to reform and that they belong in the juvenile justice system.”

Tanenhaus, whose research includes juvenile justice, said the case of the 13-year-old student is the least likely to be transferred to the adult court system by a judge.

At that age, he said, the decision-making part of the brain — which is responsible for controlling impulses, thinking about consequences and solving problems — is still developing.

“Imagine that you’re in a car that has a really good accelerator but it has terrible brakes,” he said. “That’s a way to think about adolescence.”

WHAT HAPPENED ON THE DAY OF THE ATTACK?

The fight broke out after school let out that day. Police said they believe a pair of wireless headphones and vape pen had been stolen from the victim’s friend earlier in the week, which resulted in the students agreeing to meet in the alleyway to fight.

Detectives think the victim wasn’t originally supposed to be involved in the brawl, but he walked to the alleyway with his friend after school, Johansson said.

The victim’s father, Jonathan Lewis Sr., said on a fundraising page created to help with funeral and medical costs that his son was attacked while standing up for his friend.

The video of the fight shows the victim taking off his shirt to prepare for the fight, and then the 10 students “immediately swarm him, pull him to the ground and begin kicking, punching and stomping on him,” Johansson said.

He called the video “very void of humanity” and said the victim was not defending himself as he was being attacked.

After the brawl, a person in the area found the victim badly beaten and unconscious and carried him back to campus, where school staff called 911, Johansson said.

Homicide detectives were called on the day of the attack to lead the investigation due to the severity of the victim’s injuries, he said.

WHAT IS HAPPENING AT THE SCHOOL NOW?

Rancho High School’s principal, Darlin Delgado, said in a letter to parents this week that support and resources were available for students and staff members, as the beating death “has and will continue to impact our school community.”

Two weeks after the brawl, a small memorial with flowers and candles still sat against a fence in the alleyway where Lewis was attacked.

On Wednesday, there was a visible police presence at the school and around the campus as classes ended for the day, with marked school district police vehicles and uniformed officers patrolling the area.

The Clark County School District — the fifth largest in the nation, with about 300,000 students — has its own police department that has nearly 200 officers.

The district’s police chief, Mike Blackeye, said his agency has been partnering with police in Las Vegas and neighboring North Las Vegas to provide increased police coverage at the school in the morning, lunchtime and after school, which is when he said fights typically break out.

DOES THE SCHOOL HAVE RESOURCE OFFICERS?

Blackeye said there are two resource officers assigned to Rancho High School, both of whom were on duty that day. He said they didn’t hear about the prearranged fight before it happened.

At a news conference Tuesday, he said fights have broken out in the same alleyway before, but he stopped short of calling it a problem area, pointing out that fights have happened “all around that school, in parks and neighborhoods.”

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