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Accomplices to murder often face punishment as harsh as killer’s, Valley cases show

By Ed Runyan

Sunday, October 11, 2009

By Ed Runyan

Get away from people about to commit a crime, an Akron law professor says.

WARREN — The concept of being an accomplice to a crime and getting the same penalty as the primary offender goes back hundreds of years in the U.S.

Yet, a large segment of the population fails to realize that concept, an Akron law professor says.

“It’s true that frequently people don’t understand that,” said Atty. J. Dean Carro, a professor at the University of Akron School of Law.

In Mahoning County, for example, gang violence produced many murders in the 1990s in which groups of young men retaliated against others, sometimes with people along for the ride who felt they hadn’t done anything wrong — except “hang out with the wrong people.”

Such a case made headlines in Youngstown in 1996 when Leslie Johnson, a member of the Crips street gang, was convicted of assisting fellow gang member Sidney Cornwell in the aggravated murder of 3-year-old Jessica Ballew at the Oak Park Lane Apartments.

Lawyers for Johnson, 33, serving a life prison sentence, argued he was innocent because he was little more than an innocent bystander.

The day before Ballew was killed, June 11, 1996, Johnson and fellow Crips members were fired upon twice by a members of the rival Bloods gang, court documents say.

Johnson and others went looking for a particular Blood member and stopped at the Oak Park apartments, looking to kill him.

Cornwell, now on Death Row, asked people on a balcony if they knew where the man was and then opened fire on them, killing the child, who had come out onto the balcony asking for a drink of water.

The Ohio courts that reviewed Johnson’s conviction by a Mahoning County jury were divided on whether Johnson was guilty of complicity to aggravated murder. But the Ohio Supreme Court eventually upheld Johnson’s conviction.

In Trumbull County this year, Eugene Cumberbatch, a then 26-year-old aspiring rapper from Front Street Southwest, befriended 25-year-old Pearl Street Southwest man Eugene Henderson.

Cumberbatch was convicted Sept. 25 of complicity to aggravated murder in the deaths of 11-year-old Lloyd McCoy Jr. and 26-year-old Marvin Chaney and was sentenced to 38 years to life in prison. Henderson’s trial is Nov. 2.

A third accomplice, Marcus Yager, testified at Cumberbatch’s trial that Cumberbatch only fired one time at the house on Wick Street Southeast where McCoy and Chaney were fatally wounded. He quit shooting when his gun jammed, Yager said.

Yager said Henderson used an AK-47 and fired most of the 25 shots at the house over money Chaney allegedly stole from Henderson. Yager is hoping to get one year in prison after Henderson’s trial is over.

At his sentencing, Cumberbatch said: “I’m not a murderer, not a killer. I didn’t kill little Lloyd or Marvin,” he said. “But for hanging out with people who probably made bad decisions, I’m guilty as charged.”

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