Trial tells details of boy’s slaying
YOUNGSTOWN — Details hidden from the public for three years about the events surrounding the shooting death of Rowan Sweeney spilled out all over the courtroom Thursday as prosecutors and witnesses told jurors in a Mahoning County Common Pleas courtroom what happened and what they think happened that day.
The trial resumes today.
When Jennifer Paris gave opening statements, summarizing the evidence jurors would hear, she added to the horrific nature of earlier details of Rowan’s death, saying the boy was sleeping on the couch at his mother’s home on Perry Street in Struthers when he was “brutally and mercilessly executed, shot in the head two times at point-blank range.” It was two weeks before his fifth birthday.
Rowan was splitting time between the home of his father, David Sweeney, and his mother, Alexis Schneider, on Sept. 20 and Sept. 21, 2020, one of his mother’s weekends.
Schneider “was struggling quite a bit with a substance abuse issue. She was taking pills. She was smoking marijuana and drinking too much. As of today, she has over three years drug free,” Paris said.
Schneider’s boyfriend, Yarnell Green, had gotten a check for about $5,000 from the federal Pandemic Employment Assistance program and had pulled it out to pay $30 for a Percocet, Schneider testified Thursday. Schneider’s friend, Cassandra Marsicola, and Marsicola’s boyfriend, Andre McCoy Jr., could see it.
“Andre sees that money … and he contacts his friend, Kimonie Bryant, to set up a robbery,” Paris said. “What Andre doesn’t know is that Kimonie then contacts Brandon Crump. And at just before 2 a.m. on the 21st, we believe the evidence will show that Brandon Crump burst through the front door of that house and immediately shot Andre McCoy in the head twice.”
Then the male, wearing a red jacket, shot everyone else.
After also shooting Green, Schneider covered the sleeping Rowan, “And she begs him. ‘Please don’t shoot my kid.’ And he puts two in his head,” Paris said. “At the same time, Alexis is also hit. Prosecutors believe Marsicola was hit last. Both women were hit in the extremities, Green was hit multiple times in the torso.
“He grabs the money and he runs,” Paris said of the shooter.
Paris said text messages recovered from several phones show that McCoy alerted Marsicola after they arrived at Schneider’s home that he was making plans to steal Green’s money.
But Marsicola questioned it, and McCoy seemed to indicate he had changed his mind and wouldn’t do it.
Text messages between McCoy and a person named K.B. indicated that McCoy told K.B. that Green doesn’t have a gun because it had been stolen. “Come up the steps. Open door,” McCoy texted K.B. Police learned later that day that K.B. was Kimonie Bryant, Paris said. Bryant was arrested later that day in the murder.
But in the days to come, they learned about someone named “B-Thump, Brandon Crump,” Paris said. They obtained the phone number for Crump and cellphone location data for his phone and Bryant’s phone. It showed that “at the exact time of Rowan’s murder, they are together. In fact, that cellphone data puts them on Cassius (Avenue in Youngstown, where Bryant lives) in the hour leading up to the homicide,” Paris said.
The same data “flows together from Cassius to Perry Street in Struthers, where they both remain for several minutes at the exact time of the shooting,” she said. “They then leave Perry Street and again track together back up to Cassius,” she said.
Crump was arrested Nov. 4, 2020, on Pearl Street in Youngstown. In the house, they collected Crump’s cellphone, Paris said.
In Crump’s cellphone, they collect several videos, including the hand and arm of a black male wearing a red jacket “spreading out cash within one hour of Rowan’s death,” Paris said. Also in the phone is a video taken a week before Rowan’s death “of Brandon Crump holding a .45 caliber handgun.”
Bullet shell casings recovered from the home on Perry Street were .45 caliber and had Crump’s DNA on them, she said.
Lou DeFabio, Crump’s attorney, said in his opening statement that the evidence will show that McCoy “sells drugs. Cassandra is high all the time. Andre is high all the time. Alexis is high all the time. This is what goes on.”
A couple of hours before the shootings, text messages indicate that Schneider was talking about wanting to buy a Percocet that night. Schneider, Green, Marsicola and McCoy met up at Schneider’s house about 1 a.m. Sept. 21, 2020, DeFabio said.
“There are not text messages, no phone calls between Brandon Crump and Andre McCoy,” DeFabio said. Jurors “will not hear evidence of any plan between Kimonie Bryant via text or phone calls as it relates to this robbery,” DeFabio said.
He said the DNA evidence in the case “will never answer for you is how and when that … DNA evidence got on the shell casings.”
Schneider was one of the first witnesses in the case, saying that when the gunman came through the front door, she was on a couch with Rowan and “covered him with my body.” She heard more gunshots and heard Green say, “Let’s run.” Schneider said, “I was begging the shooter not to shoot my baby, not to take his life. He’s sleeping. Don’t hurt him,” she said.
She said her whole body was covering her son. “My head was on his head.” The shooter told her “Shut the (deleted) up, dumb (deleted),” she said. Then “he shot me and Rowan.”
She said the plan for Marsicola and McCoy to come over that night was “to get high.” She said she hoped to buy a Percocet. She and Marsicola had been friends for a couple of years, and McCoy was Marsicola’s boyfriend.
Marsicola and McCoy came through the front door, which she unlocked to allow them in. She did not relock it, she said. Schneider bought a Percocet and consumed it. Green pulled out a wad of cash and paid $30 for the drug and then put the cash on the table. Schneider said she put music on the television, and Green was “rolling a joint for all of us to smoke.”
Green had about $4,000 to $5,000. Marsicola and McCoy were “on their phones the whole time,” she said.
Suddenly the door “flies wide open,” she said. “The shooter walks into the house and he says ‘Give it up,’ but before anybody could do anything, he just started shooting. I witnessed him shoot Andre,” Schneider said. “And then I jumped on top of Rowan and covered him with my body. And all I could hear was shots going off.”
That’s when the shooter killed Rowan and injured her.
Under cross examination by DeFabio, Schneider said she sometimes bought drugs from McCoy, and Green sometimes got her drugs. Green also had a Percocet problem, she said. Green was shot to death outside of a downtown Youngstown tavern Sept. 18, 2022, and Johnny Serrano Jr., 24, was convicted at trial last October in the killing. Schneider agreed that Marsicola was “always high.”
The first time Schneider was shown photos by police on Sept. 21, she could not identify anyone as the shooter, including Bryant. The next day, Bryant had been arrested in the crime and Schneider identified Bryant as the shooter.
Under questioning by Paris, Schneider said that when she looked at a photo of Crump two weeks after her son was killed, she “had a really hard, emotional reaction, and I just knew after seeing his face, that he was the one who shot me and killed Rowan.”
In court Thursday, she identified Crump, sitting at the defense table, as the shooter. She had never known Crump prior to this crime, she said.
Also testifying Thursday were Rowan’s father, David Sweeney, who testified he learned of his son’s death when his mother came to his house to inform him.
Marsicola, who was 20 when Rowan was killed, said she suffered from depression and was using Xanax and Percocets and drinking whiskey every day at the time of the killing.
She testified that she only saw the shooter’s eyes, not the rest of his face, but police “drilled me to pick someone” as the shooter, so she identified Bryant as the shooter. She agreed she told police “those are the eyes” of the man who did the shooting while looking at a photo of Bryant.
Under questioning by Jennifer Bonish, county assistant prosecutor, Marsicola was asked, “As you sit here right now, do you know who the person is who came in and shot you?”
“I don’t,” Marsicola said.