CLEVELAND (AP) — A man charged with killing five people at a home on Cleveland’s east side confessed to the slayings in return for prosecutors agreeing to not seek the death penalty, authorities said Friday.
A Cleveland police commander said at a news conference that DNA and ballistic evidence links 19-year-old James Sparks-Henderson to the Nov. 21 slayings.
Sparks-Henderson has been charged with five counts of aggravated murder and is being held on a $7.5 million bond. His attorney entered a not-guilty plea for him at a court hearing Friday.
Ballistic tests showed that a loaded 9mm handgun found on Sparks-Henderson when he was arrested Wednesday was the same weapon used in the killings, Cmdr. James Chura said. DNA evidence found inside the home also matched Sparks-Henderson, and data collected from cellular towers showed Sparks-Henderson was near the home during the killings, a prosecutor said in court on Friday.
Sherita Johnson, 41, had driven to her home that night so her 9-year-old daughter, Janiyah, could pick up some clothes. Johnson waited in the car with her 2-year-old son while Janiyah ran inside. When Janiyah stepped into the home and discovered three people dead, a masked gunman swept past her, firing two shots, one of which grazed her.
The gunman then walked to the car and shot Johnson. The 2-year-old was unharmed. It was Janiyah who called 911.
Johnson was pronounced dead at a hospital. She was seven months pregnant; her baby was delivered but did not survive. Killed inside Johnson’s home were Lemon Bryant, 60; Ja’rio Taylor, 19; and Shaylona Williams, 17. A death notice listed Taylor as Johnson’s son.
The brutality of the slayings stunned the city. Police quickly announced a $25,000 reward for information about the killings. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty and others said dogged police work and tips from the community proved essential in solving the crime.
Authorities have not disclosed why the five were killed. The Cleveland police commander said Sparks-Henderson and Taylor were best friends. Homicide detectives questioned Sparks-Henderson several times before his arrest, police said. Sparks-Henderson does not have an adult criminal record.
Sparks-Henderson’s attorney, Rufus Sims, said after Friday’s court hearing that police and prosecutors had denied his client’s request for an attorney and that Sparks-Henderson said his confession was coerced.
McGinty said none of that is true. He said Sparks-Henderson signed waivers of his Miranda rights and provided a full confession that was recorded on video.
“We have the right man,” McGinty said.
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