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Mother of Rancho High student calls for harsher laws after son’s fatal beating

Updated February 15, 2024 - 7:12 pm

The mother of a Rancho High School student who was beaten to death in November gathered with a group of supporters outside the Regional Justice Center on Wednesday to call attention to her son’s death.

Mellisa Ready, the mother of 17-year-old Jonathan Lewis, said she wants stricter punishments for some of the teenagers who have admitted guilt in juvenile court after her son was fatally beaten near Rancho High School on Nov. 1.

Four of the nine teenagers who have been arrested have admitted to voluntary manslaughter, and will be held in custody in a juvenile correctional facility.

In the juvenile court system, defendants are not ordered to serve an exact sentence. Instead, they will complete rehabilitation programs while in custody and cannot be held past the age of 21.

“If the laws are harsher, maybe they might consider their actions,” Ready said Wednesday. “Being able to walk free at 21 after committing such a heinous crime is unimaginable.”

Ready was joined by a small group of supporters wearing T-shirts with her son’s face, and holding signs with phrases such as “Justice for Jonathan Lewis,” “Stop School Violence,” and “Bullying has drastic consequences.”

Lewis was bullied throughout school, Ready said, and she doesn’t want what happened to her son to happen to other kids.

Ready said she wishes that all of the teenagers arrested in connection with her son’s death were certified as adults. Although she wants lawmakers to consider adjusting laws surrounding juvenile defendants charged with murder, she said she does not blame prosecutors for allowing the teenagers to enter the guilty admissions.

“They’re doing the best they can given the options that they have,” she said.

Four of the teenagers who were arrested — Treavion Randolph, 16, Dontral Beaver, 16, Damien Hernandez, 18, and Gianni Robinson, 17 — have been indicted in District Court on charges of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit battery resulting in substantial bodily harm. Their cases were moved to the adult system because of their ages.

Attorneys for Randolph and Robinson have filed court papers this week, arguing that prosecutors did not produce sufficient evidence for the grand jury to indict them on the murder and conspiracy charges.

Investigators have said that Lewis was attacked by a group of up to 10 teenagers in an alleyway near the high school. The fatal beating was captured on video that showed the teens stomping, kicking and punching Lewis until he fell unconscious. He died of his injuries six days later.

Surveillance footage and cellphone video that has been used as evidence showed the group of teenagers walking into an alley way after Lewis pushed a student.

Defense attorney Robert Draskovich has said that it was his client, Robinson, who was pushed. Video then showed that Lewis took off his sweatshirt and punched a different student before he was swarmed by a group of teenagers, according to court documents.

Videos also showed the group attacking a different student, who was nearly pushed into a dumpster. A Metropolitan Police Department detective testified to a grand jury that the other student was one of Lewis’ friends, who was armed with a small knife during the confrontation.

In an interview with police, Robinson said he had previously been confronted by Lewis for stealing a “wax pen or a marijuana vape,” although he denied taking the items, the detective testified to the grand jury. Robinson also said that he “got his licks in” during the attack, according to transcripts of the hearing.

In the petition filed Wednesday, Draskovich wrote that prosecutors did not show sufficient evidence to the grand jury to prove that Robinson’s actions contributed to Lewis’ fatal injuries.

Draskovich said the evidence was “editorialized” and that a preliminary hearing, rather than a grand jury proceeding from which defense attorneys are prohibited, would have allowed him to question witnesses.

“They precluded his ability to examine the evidence against him in the light of day, and instead took the case behind closed doors,” Draskovich told the Review-Journal on Wednesday.

In a motion filed Tuesday, chief deputy special public defenders Daniel Martinez and Michael Castillo argued that Randolph was the “last one to join the fray” and the “first to back off the fight.”

“The videos presented to the grand jury show that Treavion attempted to kick Lewis, but it is unclear whether Treavion was successful,” the petition stated. “There was no evidence presented to the grand jury that Treavion made any contact with Lewis’ head or otherwise directly caused Lewis’ death.”

Both petitions also argued that prosecutors did not present sufficient evidence to establish there was a conspiracy to attack Lewis.

A status check in the case is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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