By Joe Gorman
Police say a homeless man who was found dead late Wednesday evening died after being knocked unconscious and falling face-first into a puddle, where he drowned.
Detectives arrested Jayjuane Hardy, 40, who also is homeless, on a murder charge late Friday in the death of 55-year-old Robert Syster. Hardy is being held in the Mahoning County jail pending his arraignment in municipal court.
Syster was found by another homeless person just after 10 p.m. Wednesday face down in a puddle behind a parking lot on Front Street downtown. His death is the city’s fourth homicide of the year.
Chief of Detectives Capt. Brad Blackburn said Hardy was picked up for questioning early Friday afternoon after it was learned that the coroner’s office would rule Syster’s death a homicide.
Blackburn said Syster and Hardy got into an argument, and Hardy beat Syster until Syster was knocked out and he fell into the puddle. Blackburn said investigators do not think Hardy held Syster’s face in the puddle until he was unresponsive, but that he already was unconscious.
Foresnic pathologist Dr. Joseph Ohr of the coroner’s office performed the autopsy on Syster on Thursday but said he had to wait an extra day to sort out older injuries from newer injuries on Syster’s body.
“We really needed to separate out the two,” Dr. Ohr said.
Dr. Ohr said a cause of death has not been determined yet, but he did say it appears that Syster drowned.
“There are indications of drowning,” Ohr said.
Blackburn said police were able to identify Hardy as a suspect after another witness approached detectives with information.
After detectives questioned Hardy, he was booked into the jail on the murder charge.
Common pleas court records show that Hardy was charged with felonious assault in 2009 but was found not guilty by a jury after a trial.
Municipal court records show 17 charges filed against Hardy since 1996, including three this year. On Jan. 8 he pleaded no contest and was found guilty of criminal trespass and sentenced to a year’s probation and ordered to undergo mental-health treatment.
He was charged again Jan. 30 with disorderly conduct and pleaded no contest and was found guilty again. He was ordered to pay a $70 fine and continue mental-health treatment he was ordered to receive on the earlier charge.
On April 22, he again was charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. A trial in that case is set for Aug. 19.
Vindicator files also show that Hardy was wounded in the leg in a shooting on South Garland Avenue in June 2008.
In 2013, Youngstown had 20 homicides. At this time last year, the city had recorded eight homicides.