Exclusive: DC police chief criticizes judge’s decision to release teen charged with murder

A teenager charged with first-degree murder is out of jail after a judge released him with conditions this week, and D.C.’s police chief said that he disagrees with this decision.

It took investigators three months to find and charge 17-year-old J’whan Simpson as an adult in connection to last summer’s killing of 16-year-old Domonique Franklin.

Police found Franklin’s body shot in an empty D.C. Public Housing Authority apartment on Aug. 30, 2019. They also found Simpson’s fingerprints.

Multiple witnesses told police that Simpson was looking for Franklin on the night he was killed after learning that he could be a police informant, according to court documents.

“In my opinion, it can be very counterproductive, particularly in shooting homicides, when a judge finds probable cause for them to release that person back into the community,” D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham said.

But earlier this week at D.C. Superior Court, Judge Juliet McKenna ordered Simpson’s release to his grandmother’s care for a trial period of 21 days under high-security supervision, according to D.C. Superior Court records and a report on DC Witness, a news website tracking D.C. murder trials.

McKenna made the decision during a hearing Tuesday after Simpson’s defense attorney made the case that he was eligible for release based on his track record of good behavior and compliance.

“First of all, it shows the community that they are, in some regards, powerless to address this. The person who goes back into the community can intimidate witnesses,” Newsham said. “In my opinion, it’s very dangerous.”

Newsham said, philosophically, he and the judge disagree on the defendant’s rights.

Simpson’s case is not the only one in which a person charged with homicide has been released.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal E. Kravitz released 30-year-old Terrance Barnes, aka Michael Barnes, from jail. Barnes is charged with first-degree murder while armed in the April 2019 killing of 57-year-old Barry Holmes in Southeast.

Barnes’ attorney argued that the crime he is charged with was not random, and that Barnes would not pose a danger to the community, according to a DC Witness report.

Kravitz released Barnes to high-security supervision and home confinement.

Newsham said he cannot think of any circumstance where a person with probable cause to be charged in a homicide — especially when a gun is involved — should be released back into the community.

“I don’t think the right of that individual criminal defendant who has been, with probable cause, found to have committed murder, that his right (is) more important than the rights of all the other people who live in that community to be free from the fear of violence,” Newsham said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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