The previously unidentified minor arrested for the October 2008 shooting death of 27-year-old Gabe Lerner will now be tried as an adult for his role in the crime.
V.I. Family Court Judge Audrey Thomas signed an order Thursday granting the government’s request to transfer 18-year-old John Jared Southwell from the V.I. Superior Court’s Juvenile Division to the Criminal Division, where he’s been charged with aiding and abetting another in first degree murder, felony murder, first degree assault-robbery and using an unauthorized firearm during the commission of a murder.
Both Southwell and 23-year-old Auriel Devon Frett were picked up in late October of 2008 after they were spotted driving Lerner’s car. The two managed to elude police officers after leading them on a high speed car chase through the streets of St. Thomas, but were caught later that evening and brought in for questioning.
By that time, Lerner, a judicial law clerk for Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar, had been reported missing for two days.
According to detectives, information provided by Southwell — who was discovered at that time to be a runaway — is what led police to Lerner’s body, which was found on the far west end of the island, near the Blue Water Bible College. In court hearings, police detectives said that Frett and Southwell allegedly robbed and abducted Lerner after he stopped to give him a ride. Lerner was subsequently locked in the trunk as the two allegedly drove around the island, finally stopping on the West End, where Lerner was later killed — shot once in the back of the head.
The motion for Southwell’s transfer was originally filed a few weeks after his arrest, but until recently was tied up in appeals and other court proceedings, according to a Justice Department press release. Southwell has been remanded to the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix pending a detention hearing in Superior Court.