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Prosecutors: Suspect used girl to set up fatal robbery

Defense in murder trial says she lied to avoid long prison sentence

YOUNGSTOWN — Prosecutors said Ranee Fitzgerald, who will testify in D’Aundre Turner’s aggravated murder trial, was 15 in 2016 when Turner is alleged to have shot and killed Omar R. Croom, 22 and left him in the middle of Oak Street Extension on the East Side. Turner was 18 and is now 26.

Fitzgerald would frequently run away from home and stay with Turner at various locations in the city — with Turner’s family on the South Side and East Side in the ESA Apartments, sometimes at her mother’s house in Austintown — Assistant Prosecutor Rob Andrews told jurors in opening statements Tuesday.

The trial resumes today before Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney.

“They had no money. That is why occasionally she would go home, go back to her mother, so she could have some food,” Andrews said. Then on March 16, 2016, Turner “came up with a plan” for Fitzgerald to find a guy on social media, offer to have sex with him, and then set up a meeting where she would get paid for sex, Andrews said.

Turner was going to “sneak up and rob him,” Andrews said. She will testify that she did these things because she feared Turner, who had a gun, Andrews said.

According to Andrews, Fitzgerald eventually used a social-media app and set up a meeting with Croom.

She and Turner were living at the ESA Apartments with Turner’s uncle, Andrews said. The meeting was going to be in a wooded area near ESA Apartments with Fitzgerald walking there to meet Croom. Text messages between them were exchanged.

Croom parked his vehicle at a pull-off along Oak Street Extension on the East Side, and Fitzgerald got into the back seat. But she was concerned because “there was never an intention that she was going to have sex with him,” Andrews said. And she did not know where Turner was. She got out of the vehicle and walked toward the woods.

Croom caught up with her, but she got on her phone and made phone calls, and Croom went back to his vehicle. “Then all of a sudden she hears a gunshot,” Andrews said.

She saw Turner. “She sees him fire another shot,” and she ran away, Andrews said. Turner took her phone, erased things from it and then broke the phone, he said.

A passerby found Croom’s body in the roadway and called 911, and an investigation began. Fitzgerald did not cooperate with Youngstown police, nor did Turner.

Youngstown Detective Dave Sweeney was able to get cell phone records for two phones Croom had, and Fitzgerald and Turner were suspects, but there was not enough evidence to charge them, Andrews said.

Youngstown Police detective Jessica Shields later used newer cell-phone-tower technology that showed that Fitzgerald’s phone was “at the scene of the crime when it happened,” he added.

Charges were filed against Fitzgerald, now 25, in February 2023. She and Turner were indicted in Croom’s death in April of 2023, according to court records.

Andrews said jurors will learn that Fitzgerald took a plea deal in the case in return for her cooperation against Turner, but “when you hear what she says happened, it’s going to make sense.”

When Turner’s attorney, Frank Cassese, gave his opening statement, he started out by holding a wad of cash in his hand and saying that if he gave the money to a witness, “the State of Ohio would charge me with bribery. But when the State of Ohio does it, they call it cooperation. And their currency is freedom.”

He said Sweeney and others worked on the case, but no charges were filed until Shields was assigned to it in November 2022. Shields interviewed Fitzgerald and Turner “multiple times without lawyers, and their stories did not change.”

But when then the Youngtown law director agreed to charge Fitzgerald with complicity to aggravated murder. Fitzgerald was eight months pregnant, and her bond was $1 million. She was in jail 56 days, Cassese said.

“Ranee Fitzgerald had to tell detective Shields that D’Aundre killed Omar Croom. Why? Because Detective Shields made it clear to … Ranee’s mother that if (Fitzgerald) didn’t, she was going to rot in prison.” Fitzgerald took a plea, and “went from a potential life sentence to probation. She went from a $1 million bond to being released on her own recognizance. She went from having her baby in jail to having her baby in the comfort of a hospital,” Cassese said.

He said Fitzgerald “had to lie like her life depended on it, because it did.”

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