Man Serving Sentence for Torturing, Killing Classmate May Be Set Free Under New Law

The Santa Clara County District Attorney says a dangerous criminal is about to be set free courtesy of a new law meant to protect teens from adult consequences.

Jae Williams was 15 when he was sentenced to 26 years for the planned torture and killing of his classmate. Under this new law, he will have served less than a decade before being released.

Williams is 24 now. His lawyer appeared in Juvenile Hall on Tuesday because Proposition 57 puts Williams' case back in the juvenile court. And thanks to Senate Bill 1391, Williams could walk out a free man next summer.

The family of Michael Russell have been coming to Juvenile Hall for nine years and describe it as a never-ending nightmare.

"It feels like somebody smacking you in your face over and over, and over again," said Cathy Russell, the victim's aunt.

Michael Russell was tortured and killed by his school friends, Randy Thompson and Jae Williams. Thompson was 16 during the incident and is serving 26 years in prison.

Williams got the same sentence, but because he was 15 at the time and under SB 1391 just signed into law by the governor, Williams could be a free man next June.

The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, will block most 14 and 15 year olds from being tried as adults The Alternate Defender's Office applauds the law.

"Fourteen and 15 year olds don't belong in adult court," said Sajid Khan with the Alternate Defender's Office. "They are young people, kids. And the law should treat them as such."

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Williams is the reason these decisions should be left up to the judge. It is a position voters agreed with when they passed Prop. 57 two years ago.

"Their reason to kill Michael Russell was for the thrill of it," Rosen said.

Rosen now plans to challenge the constitutionality of the new law, claiming it violates the will of the voters.

"While most teenagers should be in juvenile court, most should be rehabilitated," Rosen said. "There are dangerous exceptions. Jae Williams is an exception. He's dangerous."

Meanwhile, Michael Russell's family is stuck on the sidelines.

"He's going to kill again," Cathy Russell said of Williams.

If the new law holds, Williams will likely be out next year. If the DA's challenge works, Williams would likely not be eligible for parole until he is 40.

Contact Us