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Prosecutors: Admissions, texts condemn defendants

Staff photos / Ed Runyan Elizabeth Green, mother of Valarcia Blair, 19, and grandmother of Tariq Morris, three months, testified during the aggravated murder trial of Taquashon Ray and Shainquon Sharpe Wednesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

YOUNGSTOWN — City police officers testified Wednesday they heard a volley of gunfire that killed Edward Morris, 21, Valarcia Blair, 19, and their child, 3-month-old Tariq Morris in a car near 702 Pasadena Ave. on Nov. 7, 2018.

Within a minute or so after hearing the shots, three officers in two cruisers were at the scene, seeing Morris in the driver’s seat nearly dead with a gun in his hand and Blair “gasping for air” in the front passenger seat. Both had been shot.

Parked in front of the shot-up car was an empty “getaway car that wouldn’t start,” Assistant Prosecutor Aaron Meikle told jurors in the trial in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court of the two men charged with the killings — Taquashon Ray and Shainquon Sharpe.

Though Blair was “gasping for air,” she pointed her head in the direction of the back seat to alert officers that their child was there in a car seat, covered in blankets.

Officer John Wess testified Blair’s movement caused him to look into the back seat, where Tariq was in a car seat. “I moved the blanket over and saw that the child had also suffered a gunshot wound,” Wess testified.

Officer Greg Tackett had put on a glove and removed the gun from Morris’ hand and secured it on the floor board of a cruiser, then returned to the shot-up car and received the car seat from Wess, Tackett testified.

“I sat in the back seat with the baby, Tariq Morris” still in the car seat, Tackett testified.

Officers radioed to find out how long it would take an ambulance to arrive and were advised it would take four minutes, so they asked permission to transport the baby in the cruiser to speed things up, which they did. Tackett’s partner, Casey Kelly, drove the cruiser to the hospital. The child was badly injured, Tackett said.

“The baby was just laying there staring up at me the whole time,” he testified. Once they got to the hospital, hospital personnel came to the cruiser and carried the baby into the hospital, Tackett said.

Meikle told jurors in opening statements that he expected them to hear that Ray, of Youngstown, admitted to driving a car to 702 Pasadena Ave. on the South Side the evening of the killings.

“He even admitted to being there when the shooting happened,” Meikle said during opening statements. The other defendant is Shainquon Sharpe of Columbus. Both men are 25.

Meikle also said he expected text messages involving Ray would be provided during the trial indicating that Ray “knew someone had a hit out on Edward” Morris.

Jurors also will learn that Shainquon Sharpe’s DNA was on shell casings found near the shot-up car, Meikle said. And there were messages from Sharpe, who was “looking to get paid,” Meikle said.

Attorney Charles Strader, who represents Sharpe, cautioned jurors not to allow the emotional aspects of the case to overtake their critical thinking.

It could cause someone to say, “Someone must pay for this,” Strader said. “However, this courtroom cannot operate on an emotional level.”

He said no eyewitness places Sharpe at the scene, and no weapon used by Sharpe will be part of the trial. He said police had “multiple leads, multiple tips, multiple suspects” but that investigators were “able to settle on Mr. Sharpe and and Mr. Ray.”

Attorney Andrew Zellers, who represents Ray, started his opening statement by pointing to his client and saying, “He was there. It does not mean he’s guilty. It does not mean he was involved.” Ray’s DNA was not at the scene, Zellers said.

He added that there will be testimony about Facebook messages, and prosecutors would like jurors to believe they are a confession.

“But we know someone who has had their Facebook account either accessed by someone else, hacked,” Zellers said. “There were other people who had access to his Facebook account.”

The first witness was Elizabeth Green, mother of Blair and grandmother of Tariq. She said she told Blair not to leave her house that day and go with Morris, saying Morris “was involved with a lot of stuff, and I was trying to keep them separated.” She heard the gunshots that killed her daughter, Morris and her grandson from her home, she said.

The trial resumes today before Judge Maureen Sweeney.

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