Woman gets no prison time in drive-by case

YOUNGSTOWN — The judge who heard evidence in Jana Cox’s trial and decided her case without a jury also sentenced her Thursday for her role in a drive-by South Side shooting that “shattered” the leg of a 13-year-old girl asleep in her bed.

Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court gave her three years of probation, among other orders.

The shooting took place March 31 at a home on East Avondale Avenue near Taft Elementary School on the South Side. The drive-by shooting involved a dozen or so shots hitting the house, with one of the bullets hitting the girl.

Cox, 25, of Warren; and Kasean R. Wilkerson, 16, and Xavier Hile, 16, both of Niles and formerly of Youngstown; were arrested shortly after the shooting. They were in Cox’s car.

Wilkerson and Hile both pleaded guilty later to being responsible for the shooting. Wilkerson, the shooter, was sentenced to detention in a state juvenile facility until age 21. Hile, the driver, is expected to get the same sentence.

But Cox was convicted at trial of none of the major crimes committed by Wilkerson and Hile.

Durkin found her guilty only of two lower-level felonies — obstructing justice and improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle.

At Cox’s trial, Wilkerson said he shot into the home 12 or 13 times. He said the three went to Youngstown to return a moped to a friend. After dropping off the moped, Wilkerson said they rode around South Side neighborhoods.

Wilkerson said he had been the victim of a drive-by shooting a year earlier and said he told Hile to “circle around the block.” That is when he saw the car parked on East Avondale that was the vehicle involved in his drive-by, he testified. He said he shot into the house, but didn’t tell Cox what he was planning to do.

Testimony indicated that Cox and Wilkerson were romantically involved.

Cox, who has a child, could have gotten as much as 4 1/2 years in prison on her two convictions, but Durkin gave her three years of probation instead and no additional jail or prison time. He did order her to complete a treatment program through the Community Corrections Association of Youngstown for substance-use disorder and mental health. Such programs typically last four to six months.

During Cox’s sentencing hearing Thursday, Joe Maxin, assistant county prosecutor, said Cox denied being involved in the shooting, but he said the shooting would not have happened if Cox had not allowed the boys to use her car and had not supplied the money that they used to buy the gun.

During the trial, an aunt of the injured girl testified she was the only person awake in the home when the gunfire erupted. She said she went downstairs to find her 13-year-old niece complaining about her leg. When she turned on the light, she found “a bullet hole in her leg.” She said she found bullet holes and broken windows throughout the first floor.

Maxin said Thursday the bullet “shattered” the girl’s leg.

Cox’s attorney, Mark Lavelle, then told the judge prosecutors have tried “to blame her for things that she’s not responsible for.” One of her crimes was lying to police about there being a gun in the car, Lavelle said.

And because Cox has nothing more than a speeding ticket on her prior record and has been locked up in the Mahoning County jail since May 7, Lavelle asked that the judge not extend her incarceration.

The judge said having heard the case, he knows more about the facts than if Cox had just entered a plea agreement.

“I did find Ms. Cox not guilty of the most serious offenses, ones which by law would have required a sentence” (in prison), but the evidence showed Cox obstructed justice and “knew there was a gun in the car,” Durkin said.



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