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Suspect in 5 slayings pleads guilty, avoids death sentence

CLEVELAND (AP) — The brother of a victim in a quintuple homicide had to be wrestled out of a Cleveland courtroom on Wednesday after he tried to attack a defendant who had just pleaded guilty to the fatal shootings to avoid a possible death sentence.

The trial for James Sparks-Henderson, 21, was supposed to begin this week. He instead pleaded guilty to multiple aggravated murder charges and was sentenced to five consecutive life prison terms.

The victims were 41-year-old Sherita Johnson; her unborn child; 60-year-old Lemon Bryant; 19-year-old Ja’Rio Taylor; and 17-year-old Shaylona Williams. Johnson’s 9-year-old daughter, Janiyah suffered a graze wound. They were attacked at a home in Cleveland in November 2014.

Sparks-Henderson’s attorneys didn’t return telephone messages seeking comment.

Johnson’s brother, Delray, was one of the victims’ relatives who gave emotional statements in the courtroom Wednesday. Cleveland.com reported that Sparks-Henderson smirked at Delray Johnson while he spoke. Johnson called Sparks-Henderson pitiful and told him, “I’m glad you’re going to suffer every day of your life. You’re not going to go out the easy way and asked to be killed.”

Seconds later, Johnson charged toward Sparks-Henderson. Sheriff’s deputies intervened and pushed him out of the courtroom.

Authorities said Sherita Johnson, about 28 weeks pregnant, pulled up in front of her home the night of the killings so Janiyah could pick up clothes while Johnson waited in the car with her 2-year-old son strapped in a car seat. Janiyah stepped inside the home and discovered that three people had been shot. A masked gunman swept past her, firing two shots, one of which grazed the girl, and then firing into the car, killing Johnson. The 2-year-old was unharmed. Johnson’s unborn child died 15 minutes after being delivered at a hospital.

Sparks-Henderson was arrested at a McDonald’s restaurant in Cleveland in May 2015. Ballistic tests showed that a loaded 9mm handgun found on him was the same weapon used in the killings.

A Cleveland police commander said after the arrest that DNA evidence found inside the home matched Sparks-Henderson, and data collected from cellular towers showed Sparks-Henderson was near the home during the killings.

Prosecutors haven’t said why Sparks-Henderson committed the killings. Police said Taylor was his best friend.

Sparks-Henderson’s attorneys have argued their client wasn’t eligible for a death sentence because he is developmentally disabled and has an IQ of 73.

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