Relatives of two little girls who became victims of Toledo’s gang violence held hands and thanked God as guilty verdicts were returned Friday against two gang members who shot the toddlers while they slept.
Keshawn Jennings, 21, of 244 Wasaon St. and Antwaine Jones, 19, of 3145 Cottage Ave. face up to life in prison without parole at their sentencings July 23 by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Frederick McDonald for the shooting death of 1-year-old Keondra Hooks and the wounding of her 2-year-old sister, Leondra.
Some jurors wiped away tears as Judge McDonald read the verdicts about 2:40 p.m., though Jennings and Jones showed little emotion. The jury of seven women and five men spent some eight hours Wednesday and Friday deliberating.
“The jury spoke. They gave them what they deserved,” said a visibly shaken Toledo police detective Kermit Quinn, who headed up the massive investigation. “They took two innocent victims out of here. They took their lives. They’ll never have a chance to have a life, and they don’t deserve life either. I’m glad they’re gone. I hope this sends a message to the rest of them.”
Jones and Jennings were convicted of all the counts against them: aggravated murder, murder, improperly discharging a firearm into a habitation, attempted murder, and four counts of felonious assault, along with eight gun specifications, for firing 16 shots into a Moody Manor apartment Aug. 9.
The two young victims were lying on the floor, asleep on a comforter just inside the first-floor patio doors, when bullets sprayed through the glass doors.
Andy Lastra, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, called the shooting “gang violence out of control.”
“You put people like little children and their caretakers in harm’s way, it’s almost as if gangs look at that and say, ‘We’re going to be able to accept that they’re collateral damage,’ ” Mr. Lastra said. “Well, they’re not collateral damage, and we’re not going to put up with it.”
While up to 40 investigators initially worked the Moody Manor case, it was officers from the city’s gang task force who identified Jennings, Jones, and co-defendant James Moore in surveillance video from the complex on the night of the shooting.
The jury was shown much of that footage during the two-week trial, at which prosecutors contended the three men — all members of the Manor Boyz gang — were at the North Toledo housing complex when they learned a member of a rival Crips gang was on their turf and went to “take care of business.”
Moore, 21, who was not on trial but was indicted on the same charges, testified that Jones and Jennings, each armed with a gun, were supposed to fire into an apartment where the Crips gang member was believed to be, but shot up the wrong apartment. Moore, meanwhile, drove the getaway vehicle — picking up Jones and Jennings on nearby Vermont Street moments after the shooting.
While defense attorneys portrayed Moore as a liar, Mr. Lastra said Moore’s testimony was corroborated by surveillance video that showed the defendants’ movements that evening as well as the movements of Moore and the van he drove from Moody Manor around the block to Vermont.
The assistant prosecutor said he couldn’t tell whether the jury believed Moore.
“I’d like to know. I think that they probably did,” Mr. Lastra said, adding, “It would not offend me if they looked at James and said, ‘You are a liar. It was offensive, beyond offensive. You were just as involved, but you had the guts to look your friends in the eye and say you guys were wrong. You crossed the line.’ ”
He called Moore courageous, noting that he faces “potential reprisal” when he returns to the community after serving whatever sentence he receives.
In exchange for Moore’s testimony, prosecutors agreed to recommend a three-year prison sentence for him. He is expected to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Mr. Lastra said Moore was offered the plea agreement because he was not one of the shooters that night.
Jones and Jennings, meanwhile, face minimums of life in prison with parole eligibility after 20 years for aggravated murder, but several of the charges and the gun specifications carry additional mandatory time, so they are likely to spend much longer behind bars.
“My guess is that neither one of them is going to see the light of day,” Mr. Lastra said.
Beau Harvey, one of Jennings’ two defense attorneys, said it was a difficult case all the way around.
“I think the jury did a fair job. I think they paid a lot of attention to the details of the case,” he said.
The victims’ relatives declined to comment afterward. Security was heavy inside and outside the courtroom when the verdict was read, but no incidents were reported at the courthouse.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.