Slain James Clemens graduate receives recognition at graduation

MADISON, Ala. - Jason West could not be at his graduation ceremony on Monday, but his class and school found a way to remember him and honor his family.

West was killed at the Sonic Drive-in close to his school and home last December. Trevor Davis Cantrell, 19, and Dacedric Deshun Ward, 22, are charged with capital murder and first degree robbery following the incident. Police believe the pair promised to sell West some Xanax but really intended to rob him all along.

West's mother opened up to WHNT News 19 shortly after, explaining that she mourns him, and all he was capable of achieving in life had his not been cut short.

But West had already achieved a milestone, having previously graduated from James Clemens High School at the time of his death. He was a step early, a mid-year graduate who had even been accepted to college.

His school knew if he had not been killed, he would have been back there to accept his diploma at the Von Braun Center ceremony on Monday evening.

"We needed to honor him," said Principal Brian Clayton.

Clayton and school staff decided to do something. With input from the family, they decided to leave a seat open for West at the commencement ceremony. They decorated it with the cap and gown that would have been his. When they called his name, his sister came up to receive the diploma he painstakingly earned. Clayton handed it to her, and Superintendent Robby Parker gave her a hug.

"We were glad for the family, that we can make sure we do that," said Clayton. "I think it will provide some closure."

He hopes those who saw West's chair left with some perspective.

"Sometimes life is short," he said. "And you don't get to do the things you would want to do. So you'd better live it like you need to."

Even though they couldn't see him, West's family got their moment to celebrate his accomplishment along with those of his classmates.