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Published: Thursday, 7/25/2002

Dad says he shielded daughter from shots

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LIMA, Ohio - Lying on the kitchen floor like a shield for his 3-year-old daughter, James Grant said that when the shooting inside his sister's apartment stopped, he heard one of the two gunmen say, "We have to make sure nobody in there is moving."

Mr. Grant said yesterday he believes it was Cleveland Jackson who made the statement. He heard Jeronique Cunningham speak at his trial last month, and the voice he'd heard coming from the living room that night was not Cunningham's, he said.

Mr. Jackson, 24, faces the death penalty if convicted of the aggravated murders of Jala Grant, 3, and Leneshia Williams, 17, during a drug-related robbery at an East Eureka Street apartment Jan. 3. Cunningham was convicted on similar charges and sentenced to death last month.

Defense attorneys are expected to call their final witnesses in Allen County Common Pleas Court this morning, and the jury could begin deliberating later today.

During the third day of testimony, Mr. Grant recounted how he tried to shield his little girl from the spray of bullets. He was hit five times in his face, arm, and hand. Jala was shot twice in the head. "I saw the shorter guy [Jackson] look toward Jeronique and sort of nod his head, and they just started shooting," Mr. Grant, 27, said. "I wrapped my arms around my daughter. I tried to bend my body around her."

When the gunfire ended and the men had gone out the front door, Mr. Grant said he laid Jala on the floor and told her to be still.

"I heard sirens and I got up to go outside to get the ambulance," he said, his voice choked with emotion. "She asked me to help her. She put her arms around me and asked me to help her. I told her I was going to get some help and she would be OK."

As three more of the surviving victims of the shooting took the stand, defense attorneys pressed each one to name who had been shot by Jackson. Four said Jackson shot Layshane Liles, but none could say who else he shot.

The defense contends Jackson shot only Layshane and Cunningham took Jackson's 380-caliber semiautomatic pistol and used it when his revolver misfired.

"I don't know who shot who, but I know they were both shooting," Tomeaka Grant said, getting agitated by the repeated questioning by attorney William Kluge.

Ms. Grant and the other victims said they were sure both men had guns and both were firing. James Grant said he believed Cunningham shot him, and Mr. Kluge asked the pathologist who conducted the autopsies on Jala and Miss Williams to speculate as to whether a bullet that struck Mr. Grant's arm could have traveled through Jala and back into his hand.

Dr. Cynthia Beisser, deputy Lucas County coroner, said it was possible, though not likely.

In recounting what happened at her apartment Jan. 3, Ms. Grant, 24, pulled aside the hair that was draped over her left eye, showing the jury how the bullet had entered above her eye and exited through her right cheek. She lost her left eye and still has a bullet in her right arm, she said.

Ms. Grant said she went upstairs after the shooting ended to look in the bathroom mirror, then lay on the bed. She said she did not look at the others downstairs.

Armetta Robinson, the most seriously injured of the six survivors, showed jurors the scars on her head. She was hospitalized for nearly three months after the shooting, which she cannot recall.

Before testimony resumed yesterday, Mr. Kluge asked Judge Jeffrey Reed to declare a mistrial because prosecutors had not disclosed that they'd shown photos of suspects to victims Coron Liles and Mr. Grant.

The judge denied the motion, saying Mr. Kluge still had the opportunity to question both witnesses about the photo array.



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