SOUTH BEND — Alphonso L. James III, now 16, of South Bend, was sentenced to 63 years in prison following his conviction for the 2018 murder of Jaren Minies of Elkhart, when James was just 13 years old.
Judge Michael Christofeno identified the multiple attempts at rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system James had been offered after his prior adjudications in St. Joseph County, and noted multiple pending cases there that still need to be resolved. In justifying the aggravated sentence for James, Prosecuting Attorney Vicki E. Becker argued that James’s attitude and behaviors were far beyond that which could be rehabilitated safely in the community. She pointed out his history in St. Joseph County as well as his adjudication for a serious felony aggravated assault and gang assault he committed in New York while on the run from his murder case in Elkhart County.
James had been accused of shooting Minies multiple times while trying to rob him in the back of a car on Sept. 12, 2018. During the trial, Prosecutor Becker relied heavily on eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence that demonstrated James’s lack of concern for numerous people in the vicinity, including young children. During the trial, one witness described how he heard his residence’s back door slam and went to see what was going on. That witness discovered James inside the back entryway and demanded he leave; however, minutes later, the witness encountered James in his home again after breaking in the basement window, brandishing a handgun. The witness gained control of the gun and James fled at that time.
While Prosecutor Becker is deeply troubled by having to send such a young child to prison, the level of depraved instinct, attitudes and beliefs demonstrated by James in his short life left few options. At the age of four, James’s father was murdered during a drug deal in Elkhart. Prosecutor Becker also prosecuted and convicted the individuals responsible for that offense. During James’s sentencing hearing, she expressed this is the first time in her career she has seen a victim’s child follow in the footsteps of offenders like those who killed his father. Rather, it has been more common these survivors find ways to overcome the trauma and become very successful members of the community.
“There is just no way to ensure the safety of the public with any type of alternative rehabilitative efforts,” Becker argued shortly before the judge imposed his sentence.