By John W. Goodwin Jr.
It has been nearly two years and a change to a new county, but the murder trial of a second man accused in the slaying of a Youngstown State University senior at an off-campus party in early 2011 is under way.
Jamelle Jackson, 20, of Youngstown, is charged with 10 counts of felonious assault, shooting into a habitation and the shooting of 25-year-old Jamail Johnson and 10 other people at a fraternity party. Johnson was killed.
Jackson appeared before Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for the start of his trial, but Jackson, his attorneys, prosecutors, court reporters, witnesses, the bailiff and the judge were seated in a Summit County courtroom in Akron.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge agreed weeks ago on a change of venue in the case because of its popularity in and around Mahoning County. The idea was that moving the trial to Summit County would allow for the quick selection of a fair and impartial jury.
Rebecca Doherty and Dawn Cantalamessa, assistant Mahoning County prosecutors, and defense lawyers John Ams and Douglas Taylor selected a jury of nine women and three men within one day.
Attorneys, along with the jury panel, then made the journey back to Youngstown so jurors could see firsthand the house where Johnson was killed and 10 other people were shot while running for their lives.
Doherty told jurors going to the house and walking through the structure should give them a better picture from which to judge as they listen to witnesses and hear evidence.
Ams and Doherty offered opening statements Tuesday afternoon with virtually no dispute as to the shooting, victims involved or the chaos, death and altered lives left in the aftermath. Defense attorneys, however, took issue with the identity of the shooters responsible.
Doherty told jurors the state is certain the shooters are Jackson and 24-year-old Columbus Jones, who already has been sentenced to more than nine decades in prison.
“You will learn from the evidence that there were two shooters in this case. There were two guns used, and you will see that Columbus Jones and Jamelle Jackson were the shooters,” she said.
Prosecutors contend Jackson, Jones and a list of their friends attended the fraternity party, of which Johnson was a member, carrying guns. When told by fraternity members to leave the weapons in their car, Doherty said, the men sneaked them into the party through a window.
“These were guys who didn’t want to be without their guns,” she said.
An altercation between a woman at the party and one of the defendant’s friends took place inside, and the group was asked to leave, but prosecutors contend Jackson, Jones and their friends were determined to wreak more havoc on the people in the house.
“They were not content with ending things. This should have been a fistfight — that’s how it started, but because they brought guns, this escalated. Instead of walking away, Columbus Jones and Jamelle Jackson opened fire,” she said. “They literally shot through the door into a crowd of people.”
Jamail Johnson, who was trying to usher other people back into the house and out of the line of fire, was shot in the head and back four times. Ten others were wounded.
Ams told jurors there is no doubt that Johnson was a good man and a hero who died trying to save other people at the party that night. He said there also is no doubt the other victims suffered, but his client did not pull the trigger.
“The real issue here is one of identity. The state of Ohio has not brought the right man to trial,” he said.
Ams pointed out there were many people standing at the rear of the house where the shots were fired and witnesses identified one shooter as having dreadlocks and another as an unidentified man dressed in black.
Ams said not a single witness will describe a shooter fitting his client’s description.
Jurors also heard testimony from Johnson’s mother, Shirlene Hill, and the dozen frantic calls made to the Youngstown 911 center the night of the shooting.