Impassioned pleas marked a press conference where church leaders representing various denominations opposed transferring two 15-year-olds to adult court to stand trial for the July 18 killing of Pastor Autura Eason-Williams.
Those church leaders on Tuesday morning joined forces with United Methodist Church ministers in advocating for Miguel Andrade and Brayan Carillo to be tried as juveniles in the first-degree murder case.
“Rather than look at what the teens are accused of, I think we should consider a larger question,” said the Rev. Tom Fuerst, pastor of First United Methodist, where the Aug. 2 gathering was hosted.
“Is it right to take someone out of the possibility for redemption, without restorative opportunities to rightness and wholeness? We must seek justice and do no harm.”
The brief press conference outside First United Methodist came a day after Andrade and Carillo appeared in Juvenile Court for a judge to decide whether they will be transferred to adult court. No ruling was made Tuesday.
The next court appearance for the two minors is Sept. 12. Andrade will have a new attorney. Both suspects have been ordered to take a competency evaluation.
Shelby County District Atty. Gen Amy Weirich has recommended that the two teens be tried as adults, along with a 20-year-old, who was also arrested for the killing of Eason-Williams in her driveway.
Eason-Williams’ family is divided over whether to prosecute Andrade and Carillo as adults. Her children have asked the court to “consider other options” rather than adult prison, expressing the conviction that their mother would have been concerned about the fate of the teens who shot her.
Darrell Eason-Williams does not see it that way. He said his wife “would not want these kids back out on the streets to kill anybody else.”
The Rev. Sara Corum of Trinity United Methodist Church said the two teens have been failed by “society,” and should, therefore, be spared adult treatment in court.
“The failure of society (is) really to blame,” said Corum. “Our responses are reactive, rather than pro-active. Poverty and racial discrimination are factors. I came up under Pastor Eason-Williams as a child. She worked with youth. She would want the focus to be on these young people.”
Fuerst and others wrote letters last week to Weirich’s office, asking that the teens be treated as juveniles. The delay in ruling on adult or juvenile court was welcome news for the church leaders at the press conference.
“Let’s remember that these youth allegedly committed this crime,” said Pastor Andre Johnson of Gifts of Life Ministries.
“We understand that police are under pressure to make arrests. And we should let the process play out. But if there is one thing we have learned, it is that punitive action has not made us safer.”
Johnson and Fuerst made brief remarks while other clergy prayed and read scripture.
The Rev. Dr. Rosalyn Nichols of Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church said Eason-Williams’ concern “would be with the well-being of those boys. …
“Pastor Autura was my friend,” said Nichols. “Although we are all grieving her death, I know she would have wanted the focus to be on these two young men. I think her daughter articulated that sentiment for all of us.
“Pastor Autura was a powerful and effective youth leader for many years.”
Weirich stood by her decision to file motions for Andrade and Carillo to be tried as adults.
“I have a responsibility to the community,” said Weirich. “In making my decision, we looked at several factors. We considered the offenders’ criminal history and whether they have been in the system before, we look at the age and the facts of the case.”
The suspects were caught later on the night of July 18 after committing another carjacking in Cordova.