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Homicide investigation continues

Attorney Tony Meranto, left, stands next to a television monitor showing Erik E. Jenkins from the Mahoning County jail as Jenkins pleaded guilty to attempted murder Wednesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

YOUNGSTOWN — Erik E. Jenkins, 25, of Columbus, who was indicted on murder and attempted murder in a March 4 homicide in the city, pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempted murder and received a prison sentence of nine to 12 years.

That happened because prosecutors asked Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to dismiss the murder charge.

During Jenkins’ plea and sentencing hearing, Michael Rich, assistant county prosecutor, said he asked for dismissal of the murder charge because of “new evidence, new information obtained by the state, which would warrant further investigation into this matter.”

After the hearing, Rich declined to explain what type of new information was obtained.

Defense attorney Tony Meranto, however, said it was the news that none of the ballistics evidence nor DNA tied the death of Thomas C. Williams, 34, to the shell casings or bullets fired that night by Jenkins or a bar bouncer who fired at Jenkins.

GUNFIGHT

Police said Williams was killed during a gunfight in the parking lot of the King’s Court tavern, 3223 South Ave., at the same time that a security guard was wounded. Jenkins apparently was shooting at a tavern security guard when Williams died, Capt. Rod Foley of the detective division said.

The security guard was working the rear of the tavern, formerly known as the Coconut Grove, at the time, police said.

The guard, who was shot by Jenkins, fired back. The attempted murder charge was for Jenkins shooting at the him. The murder charge accused Jenkins of committing an attempted murder of the security guard that resulted in the death of another person.

Jenkins “initiated this whole shooting by walking up in the parking lot and just shooting (about a dozen shots) at the security guard,” Foley said.

Foley said in April that police did not know whose bullet killed Williams and that police hoped ballistics evidence would determine that.

At the time, Youngstown Law Director Jeff Limbian explained the reason Jenkins was charged in Williams’ death this way: “When you come to a gunfight and start a gunfight, you’re responsible for everything that happens from that point on. So regardless of whoever ultimately shot” Williams, Jenkins is charged with killing him.

CHAOS

But without any evidence suggesting that the gunfight between Jenkins and the security guard led to Williams’ death, it leaves open the possibility that someone else used the chaos of the gunfight as an opportunity to kill Williams, Meranto said.

“All the state would be able to show is that (Williams) was alive when this started and was dead following it. From my point of view, there could have been somebody looking to kill (Williams) and took advantage that there was a shooting going on,” Meranto said.

Meranto said prosecutors apparently filed the murder charge against Jenkins on the theory that ballistics or DNA or both would show that bullets either from Jenkins or the security guard caused Williams’ death.

When Rich was asked whether another person will be charged, he would not comment except to say there is “still an open investigation.”

During the hearing, Meranto told Krichbaum “kudos” to the prosecutor’s office for asking for the murder charge to be dismissed “in light of what’s been happening in their office.”

Meranto was referring to another common pleas court judge dismissing Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa from another murder case because of evidence that was not turned over to the defense in a timely way and because she made a false statement to the court.

“Maybe it shows a new direction and a good direction,” Meranto said. “I have a duty to represent zealously. The state has a duty to see that justice is done, not just convict people. They have a duty, an ethical obligation to see that justice is done. And in this case, I believe dismissing the murder was justice.”

The dismissal of the murder charge against Jenkins was requested “without prejudice,” meaning it can be refiled at a later date if warranted, Rich said.

erunyan@vindy.com

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