Crime & punishment

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Michael Davis

Arson victims funeral

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Hundreds attend funeral services for the victims of the Jan. 23 arson, Carol Crawford, 46, her daughter Jennifer R. Crawford, 23, and Jennifer’s four children, Ranaisha, 8, Jeannine, 5, Alisha , 3, and Brandon, 2.

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Bennie Adams sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of Gina Tenney.

Fire Victims

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Fire Victims: In memoriam

Adams Verdict: Guilty

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The Kaluza Verdict

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COURT DATE: Adreen I. Mitchell and his attorney, James Lewis, of the Ohio Public Defender's Office, listen to proceedings in Trumbull County Common Pleas COuty. MItchell was present for an initial appearance Monday; he is charged in the slaying of Fred A. DeVengencie, 89, owner of Freddie's Diner in Warren; and the wounding of Fred's son, Anthony DeVengencie, 71.

The worst mass murder in Youngstown’s history brought a life sentence for the baby-faced arsonist.


In a year of despicably memorable crimes, arguably none was more haunting than the fiery deaths of two women and four children.

Jurors, not believing 18-year-old Michael A. Davis intended to perpetrate Youngstown’s worst mass murder in January, spared him the death penalty. The baby-faced arsonist who lashed out at a petty theft by setting the Crawford house on fire is in prison for the rest of his life.

Davis, described during the penalty phase of the trial in October as abused and borderline retarded, had confessed to a detective that he walked to the Crawford house and used an ignitable liquid to set fire to an upholstered couch on the porch at 5:30 a.m. Jan. 23 while the family and overnight guests slept. Five escaped the blaze.

This year, more than half of the 28 killed in Youngstown (as of Dec. 5) — 15 victims — were age 22 or younger.

Despite beginning the year with six deaths at one crime scene, the city’s homicide toll declined in 2008, compared with the previous year, when 39 murders were recorded.

“I always try to keep it in context; this year was better than last but I take no comfort in that because it’s certainly nowhere good enough,” said Mayor Jay Williams. “There’s been a concerted and ongoing effort made to drive the numbers down, and that’s been evidenced by what we’ve seen this year. We are committed to redoubling our efforts next year. Crime going down is good; crime staying down is better.”

The mayor said he is encouraged by the resurgence of block watches, which he called key to sustaining a decrease in crime, preventing crime and identifying suspects.”

Williams said he hopes to have the same conversation next year and years beyond about the homicide rate’s coming down. He said the early part of 2008 was especially violent with the fatal arson, and the shooting of KFC manager Joe Kaluza.

The news in March that a bullet paralyzed Kaluza from the neck down generated an outpouring of community sympathy and support. Several businesses stepped up to hold fundraisers for the father of two special-needs children.

In August, after five months of hospitals and rehabilitation in Cleveland, Kaluza, now 43, arrived home in a motorized wheelchair to a heartwarming reception. The robbers of a $300 KFC bank deposit, Hattie Gilbert, 21, and her boyfriend, Taran D. Helms, 23, are due out of prison in 2058.

In the aftermath of dead and starving dogs found at High Caliber K-9 in October, Youngstown Prosecutor Jay Macejko and the mayor began steps to encourage state legislators to elevate animal cruelty, now a misdemeanor, to a felony. Macejko said the crime is a felony in 45 states.

A decades-old cold case that went to trial two months ago brought satisfaction to family and investigators alike.

Bennie L. Adams raped and strangled to death a Youngstown State University student in December 1985, but the case stalled until DNA linked him to the crime. Adams, 51, was found guilty and now sits on death row in the Ohio State Penitentiary.

Detective William Blanchard, who investigated the case, said Adams deserved the death penalty because of the brutality of 19-year-old Gina Tenney’s death. “You had a young girl [who] had her whole life ahead of her, and it was just snuffed out in a violent way,” he said during the trial.

The Tenney murder case remained on the shelf until then-Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann instructed the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in 2007 to create a DNA database and take a look at old, unsolved rapes and homicides.

Terrance Tate didn’t risk the possibility of the death penalty for the death of his girlfriend’s 1-year-old son. Instead, the 23-year-old child beater pleaded guilty in November to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Javonte Covington, covered with bruises, including some that caused brain damage, died on his first birthday in April 2006.

A death-penalty case moves to trial in Trumbull County early next year. Ardeed I. Mitchell, 28, of Youngstown, is charged in the shooting death of 90-year-old Fred DeVengencie during a robbery at Freddie’s Diner on North Park Avenue in Warren in August.

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