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Published: Saturday, 6/15/2002

Survivors recount Lima carnage

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LIMA, Ohio - Layshane Liles had handed over all the drugs he had - an ounce and a half of crack cocaine that could bring more than $1,500 on the street. He'd pulled out the $500 or so in cash he had in his sock.

He'd offered his gold rings and figured he would have to give his life too.

Liles testified yesterday that Cleveland Jackson and his brother, Jeronique Cunningham, wanted more.

“I thought they was just going to kill me and let everyone go,” he said.

As Cunningham held a gun to seven of Liles' friends and family members, Liles said he asked his friend why he and Jackson were doing this.

“I asked him, ‘Is it like that? Why you going to do [shoot] me like that?' ” Liles said.

He didn't get an answer - only a bullet in the back, though Liles testified he didn't know whether Jackson or Cunningham fired the shot that hit him.

Soon after, more shots were fired, and when it was over, everyone had been hit. Jala Grant, 3, and Leneshia Williams, 17, were dead.

In the second day of Cunningham's trial on capital murder charges, Liles was one of four of the surviving victims who took the stand. All described nearly the same sequence of events: an evening of watching a movie and playing cards that turned bloody when Jackson and Cunningham pulled out their guns and began firing at them at random.

Without looking at her brother even once, Cunningham's sister, Tarra, testified she saw her brothers wiping down a gun and a loaded magazine at her apartment earlier that day.

She said she overheard Jackson talking to Cunningham about robbing Liles.

“I just left,” she said. “I didn't want to hear no more or see no more.”

When they came back to the house later that night, Tarra said, “I knew something went wrong because I had never seen them like that.”

Tomeaka Grant, who lived with Liles at the Eureka Street apartment where the shootings occurred, brushed aside her hair and showed the jury where she was shot above her left eye. She lost vision in the eye and lives with a bullet in her right arm.

She said the two men emptied their guns.

“I saw both of them pulling the trigger and the guns were just clicking after they were out of bullets,” she said.

Attorneys for Cunningham contend all the shots were fired from Jackson's small-caliber pistol, not from the larger-caliber revolver that belonged to Cunningham.

Yesterday, John Heile, a forensic scientist with the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation, testified that all eight shell casings retrieved from the scene were fired from the same .380 pistol.

Four of the recovered bullets also were fired from the same .380 pistol, he said, while fragments from two other bullets could not be conclusively linked to the gun.

While the testimony would seem to bolster Cunningham's defense, Mr. Heile testified that a revolver would not leave casings behind unless the shooter manually removed them. Asked by defense attorney Robert Grzybowski if a revolver would leave bullets behind, Mr. Heile, replied, “Yes.”

So far, all of the survivors - with the exception of Armetta Robinson - have insisted both men had guns, both fired at them.

Perhaps the most powerful testimony came from Ms. Robinson, who said she didn't remember anything from the Jan. 3 shooting. With a court employee holding her hand, she walked slowly and carefully to the witness stand, pausing to focus before she sat down.

Ms. Robinson, 27, said she was in a coma for 47 days. She was a patient at St. Rita's Medical Center for two and a half months.

“I thought I had gotten in a car wreck, but I later learned I was shot,” she said.



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