By Ed Runyan
A few times since Jonathan Meadows Sr., 41, was shot to death a year ago, Stanley Elkins, assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, has mentioned how members of the Meadows family never alleged he was abusive toward his children.
That is different, however, from the stories told to reporters and social media about the daughter charged in his death, Bresha Meadows, who was 14 at the time. Those stories said Bresha killed her father because he was abusive toward her and other family members.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the killing.
In May, Bresha, originally charged with aggravated murder, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter. She is expected to leave juvenile detention soon for a six-month stay in a Cleveland treatment facility and then be released into the community.
Thursday, Elkins for the first time talked about interviews police conducted with members of the Meadows family just after the shooting.
Bresha never gave a statement to police, Elkins said.
But her mother, two siblings and friends of the two siblings were interviewed. None ever mentioned any problem with Jonathan Meadows being abusive, Elkins said.
He recalled the witnesses saying they didn’t know why she did it.
The witnesses said there had been violence between Bresha’s mother, Brandi Meadows, and Jonathan in the past, Elkins said. A detective interviewed family members at least twice in the days after the killing, Elkins said.
None of the witnesses ever said Bresha shot her father because he was abusive toward her or to protect her mother, Elkins said. When a detective asked Bresha’s sister and brother about what might have triggered the killing, they said “nothing happened that day that would have predicted this would happen,” Elkins said.
The only statements he received about Jonathan abusing any of the Meadows children “were in the media,” Elkins said.
Brandi Meadows told reporters soon after the killing that Bresha was her hero, because Bresha killed her father to protect the family from him.
An aunt of Bresha’s reported that Jonathan was threatening toward Bresha and caused her to “fear for her life” in May 2016, Elkins said. That was when Bresha ran away from home, but an investigation of the allegations by Trumbull County Children Services and Warren police indicated the allegations were “unsubstantiated,” Elkins said.
It was a “long while” after the killing that the first allegations were raised in legal documents filed by her attorney, Ian Friedman, that Jonathan had been abusive toward Bresha, Elkins said.
When the case concluded in May, Elkins said prosecutors will “never know” what caused Bresha to kill her father.
“Those are the people who witnessed the shooting, and now they are changing their testimony,” Elkins said of Meadows family members and friends.
Elkins said prosecutors made a plea deal with Bresha because of the possibility she might have been found not guilty at a trial and “could have just walked free altogether.”
He said deciding whether to reach a plea or going to trial was a “hard decision. It was a decision I understand the family [of Jonathan Meadows Sr.] didn’t like.”
Among the family members who didn’t like the plea was Lena Cooper of Nashville, Tenn., Jonathan’s sister. Cooper kept quiet until May 8, when she told reporters her brother was not abusive. She said the reason Bresha killed Jonathan was because he had restricted her privileges after catching her having inappropriate relations with other teens.
She said Bresha’s DNA was not on the gun and that the DNA that was found belonged to Brandi and Jonathan. That led Cooper to suggest her niece may not be the killer. She suggested Bresha took the fall for someone else because she would get lighter punishment than an adult.
Elkins said he’s aware of Cooper’s theories, but he believes Bresha pulled the trigger.
Though police found Bresha’s DNA was not on the handgun, “at least three people saw the gun in her hand” after it was fired, Elkins said.
Cooper also attaches significance to information about Bresha that police didn’t release but Elkins confirmed: When police arrived the morning of the shooting, Bresha was in the shower, clothed and wet, “crying hysterically,” Elkins said.
Cooper said she thinks it’s evidence of a plot to remove evidence of the real shooter.
No one in the home was able to explain why she was in the shower, Elkins said, adding he doesn’t believe Bresha being in the shower indicates someone else fired the gun.
Brandi called 911 at 3:19 a.m. to report Bresha had shot Jonathan in the head. Jonathan had been asleep on the couch in the Hunter Street Northwest home where Brandi, Jonathan, Bresha and two other Meadows children lived.
Cooper told The Vindicator the anniversary of her brother’s death has brought back many memories, including the last phone call she had with him July 26.
“He was excited because it was going to be his 23rd wedding anniversary in two days, so it was just like he really had no clue,” Cooper said of his fate.
Cooper said she feels there was a manipulation of justice by Bresha’s “high-profile attorney,” and Brandi Meadows’ sister, Martina Latessa, a Cleveland police officer who investigates domestic-violence cases.
“You get a high-profile attorney, and your sister is a domestic-violence advocate – I mean that’s all you need. Everything else falls into place,” Cooper said.
While prosecutors kept silent on the facts of the case in the months after the killing, Friedman and Latessa spoke. Friedman said Bresha experienced an “unimaginable nightmare on a daily basis” while living with her father.
Latessa told reporters the death was the result of “20 years of abuse” by Jonathan Meadows against members of his family.
Judge Pamela Rintala of the county’s juvenile court said at Bresha’s sentencing hearing in May that county Children Services will be asked to determine where Bresha should live when she leaves treatment in January.
Officials say they don’t know the actual date Bresha will be transferred to the treatment facility. It will depend upon when a bed there is available, Judge Rintala said.