By SHELLEY TERRY - firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening statements took place Thursday in the trial of John Drummond Jr., the Youngstown native accused of murdering Ronald “Maceo” Hull of Ashtabula — the man he believed stole $10,000 from a mutual friend in 1997.
The trial is taking place in Ashtabula County Common Pleas Judge Alfred Mackey’s courtroom.
Thursday morning, jurors were taken to the actual scene of the crime — an apartment on West 38th Street in Ashtabula — before returning to the courthouse to hear opening statements from the attorneys.
Drummond, 36, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder and kidnapping. Public defender Marie Lane, who is representing him, said the evidence is not conclusive because Ashtabula police lost much of it over the years.
Drummond and five other men were charged in January with Hull’s Feb. 9, 1997 kidnapping and murder. The five others — Troy Jones, Jawann Evans, Eric Weaver, George Church and Stephen Boles — recently pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges in a plea deal with prosecutors in which the murder charges were dropped in return for testimony.
Hull was beaten, pistol-whipped and shot four times — in the neck, buttocks, left forearm and hip — before succumbing to his injuries, according to Thursday’s testimony.
Associate Assistant Attorney General, Brian S. Deckert, who is serving as a special prosecutor in this case, said in his opening statement that Hull endured torture before he was executed and it was all over a mistake — Hull was wrongly accused of stealing Troy Jones’ safe containing $10,000.
Hull’s mother wept in the back of the courtroom as the prosecutor described her son’s last hours.
It started the afternoon of Feb. 8, 1997, when Jones’ girlfriend called him while he’s at a concert in Youngstown. She told him somebody stole the safe from their apartment while she was at the mall.
She believed it was Hull or Damien “Dino” Young, Deckert said.
“That’s bad luck for Maceo (Hull),” he said. “When Jones is informed, they all get in the car with guns and travel to Ashtabula. They call Church and Boles, who are already in Ashtabula, and they start looking for Hull.”
Ashtabula resident Monique Shaw, who lived in Bonniewood Estates at the time, said Hull heard people were looking for him and she gave him a ride to the Jones’ West 38th Street address.
Hull’s first cousin, Monique Robinson of Ashtabula, lived next door to Jones. When she discovered Jones and the men from Youngstown had Hull pegged as their prime suspect, she tried to warn him, to no avail.
“He’s my cousin; he didn’t steal the safe,” she said, adding she was there when Jones, Weaver, Drummond and Evans pulled in the driveway. “Troy Jones looked agitated and angry.”
The men carried guns, she said.
For the next hour or so, Robinson heard gunshots, mumbling and yelling.
In her opening statement, Lane said the case is “centered around the devil — George Church.” She said Church was the driving force at the apartment.
Lane got her chance to talk to the “devil” and the other co-defendants when they took the stand Thursday afternoon.
Church, who was convicted of attempted murder and kidnapping in another case soon after the Hull murder, said testifying and cooperating with police in this case goes “against everything I once believed in.”
Now 38, Church just finished spending 13 years behind bars for that conviction. He said he has a family now and wants “to do the right thing.”
He was in a car with his ex-wife in 1997 when he heard his friend, Troy Jones, was missing money, he said. So, he and Boles went to find Hull. Church said he brought two guns along for the ride.
In the meantime, Hull came to the apartment on his own, he said.
Church didn’t know who fired the shot that hit Hull’s buttocks, because the scene was total chaos.
“Troy (Jones) shot into the floor of the apartment,” he said. “We went to get Dino (Young), who lived near Lake Shore Park ... (back to the apartment) There’s a lot of screaming and commotion. Everybody is fighting. We go outside and I assault Maceo with my .38 (gun) and the gun broke and Maceo is on the ground.”
While Church is assaulting Hull, Damien “Dino” Young later testified that he saw an opportunity to run away.
“I ran through the (nearby) field,” he said. “I ran for my life.”
Church said Hull wasn’t hurt “that bad” — something Lane questioned because his assault broke a gun, after all.
Church also believed the whole matter was settled. As he and Boles walked to the car, he saw Maceo on all fours trying to get up.
“I heard a pop and I leaned back and I saw Mr. Drummond standing over him,” he said.
Lane pounced on Church’s testimony, insisting it was all for shorter sentence. She said Church was “the one talking about killing people that night.”
Young, who now lives out of the area, said he was afraid of all of them and the terror hasn’t diminished over the years. He was told that “something bad” was going to happen to his family if he testified and then he was offered $20,000 not to testify, Lane said.