The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

August 24, 2013

Police hammered for losing evidence

Defense also questions ‘Bula Department’s slow response to murder scene

JEFFERSON — Ashtabula Police Department’s slow response time and lost evidence dominated the second day of John Drummond Jr.’s murder trial.

Defense attorney Marie Lane spent the morning grilling retired Ashtabula police officers, who helped process the homicide scene back February 1997. Lane honed in on the specifics of the lost evidence, which included blood drops, pieces of blood-spattered carpeting, video tapes and photographs of the crime scene, and interviews with suspects.

Drummond, 36, of Youngstown, is accused of kidnapping and then fatally shooting Ashtabula resident Ronald “Maceo” Hull at a West 38th Street apartment in Ashtabula. He is charged with two counts of aggravated murder and kidnapping.

Drummond and five other men believed Hull stole a safe containing $10,000 from Troy Jones’ apartment at 1023 W. 38th St., according to Thursday’s testimony.

All of the men were charged in January with Hull’s Feb. 9, 1997 kidnapping and murder. The five others — Jones, Jawann Evans, Eric Weaver, George Church and Stephen Boles — cut a deal with prosecutors and had the murder charges dropped. They pleaded guilty last month to kidnapping in exchange for information and/or testimony and they received lighter sentences.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 9, 1997, Hull was beaten, pistol-whipped and shot three times before the fatal shot — in his neck — severed his spinal cord, killing him nearly instantly, according to Friday’s testimony from Christen Marie Rolf, a medical examiner from Lexington, Ky., who worked at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office in 1997.

That’s the shot prosecutors said Drummond made as Hull lay on the ground outside the apartment complex. Church testified Thursday he saw Drummond pull the trigger.

During Friday’s cross-examination of police, Lane drove home the point that police received several 911 calls on the night of the murder, beginning 12:35 a.m. to report “shots fired” on West 38th Street. Two more calls came into the Ashtabula Police Department — at 12:56 a.m. and at 1:07 a.m. Feb. 9 from a woman who said someone died, Lane said.

It wasn’t until 3:10 a.m. that the first police officer, Patrolman Will Parkomaki, arrived at the apartment complex. Two minutes later, Rick Featsent, now a retired Ashtabula police officer, said he arrived on the scene.

“Leaving enough time for the evidence to be kicked around or moved,” Lane said.

Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Detective Taylor Cleveland, the police officer who reopened the cold case, took the witness stand shortly before noon. While working on the case, he interviewed more than 30 witnesses, he said.

“It was incredibly difficult to get people to talk,” he said.

On cross-examination, Lane hammered Cleveland on lost evidence. He said much of the evidence “was no longer in custody of law enforcement.”

Lane then turned her attention to Cleveland’s interview with Damien “Dino” Young, the other man Drummond and the others suspected might have stole the safe. Boles and Church retrieved Young from his home and brought him to the apartment that night, but Young managed to run away.

 Cleveland’s 2003 video interviews with Boles and Young also were lost, he said.

Cleveland said he remembered Boles said he heard gunshots as he walked away, but he didn’t see who shot Hull. Boles also said all the other men had guns but him, Cleveland said.

Earlier this year, Young was offered $20,000 from Terrance Carson of Ashtabula not to testify at this trial, Cleveland said.

Cleveland said he attempted to file criminal charges  against Carson but he was difficult to “pin down.”

Rolf provided detailed descriptions of Hull’s wounds as prosecutors showed autopsy photos on an overhead projector. It showed blunt force injuries on Hull’s hands, abrasions on his head and his eyes were swollen shut with bruises.

The four gunshots — left hip, right hip and thigh, forearm and neck — were fired at close range, Rolf said.

In addition, he had a 1-inch by 1-inch gash on the back left-side of his head, she said.

The toxicology report revealed he had marijuana and cocaine in his body at the time of death, she said.

Ashtabula County Common Pleas Judge Alfred Mackey, who is presiding over the trial, then called a recess until  9 a.m. Monday.

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