Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Tot-shooting suspect has long rap sheet

Prosecutor wants 16-year-old tried in adult court

By Dan Horn, Jane Prendergast and Annie-Laurie Blair
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The teen-ager accused of shooting a toddler in Over-the-Rhine turns 16 today. He will spend this birthday in the same place he spent his last one: a jail cell.

Devonte Williams is comforted by his mother, Carmaleetta Ross. He may be able to go home Friday.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        The Price Hill teen-ager, who is not being identified because of his age, already has a rap sheet longer than many adult criminals. His first arrest, for aggravated menacing, came at age 12.

        Over the next four years, he was arrested 22 times and convicted in juvenile court 17 times. The crimes range from assault to attempted robbery to gross sexual imposition.

        The teen now stands accused of a crime that shocked a city already reeling from one of the most violent summers in decades. Police say he shot a 2-year-old boy Friday evening as he wildly fired a handgun at another man.

Devonte with brother Alfonso, 6.
(Family photo)
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        Devonte Williams became the 78th person shot in Cin cinnati since the riots and unrest in early April. The police division's new task force to deal with the upswing in violence spends today in training; it starts increased patrols and undercover work Wednesday.

        Because of the 16-year-old's long criminal history, prosecutors say they will try to take his case to adult court, where the possible penalty could exceed 20 years in prison.

        He was arrested early Monday morning and later arraigned in juvenile court on felonious assault charges. His next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 2.

        “There is nothing the juvenile system can do for this person,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. “He needs to be tried in adult court, convicted in adult court and sentenced in adult court to as many years as legally possible.”

Prosecutor Mike Allen talks with Ms. Ross at Children's Hospital Monday. On the phone is Devonte's father, Alphonso Williams Jr.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        Mr. Allen repeated that promise Monday afternoon when he visited the 2-year-old, Devonte Williams, and his family at Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        “I just kind of thought it was the right thing to do,” the prosecutor said after explaining the court process to Devonte's mother, Carmaleetta Ross. “And I wanted to see the little guy. It makes it real for you.”

        Mr. Allen promised the boy's mother she would be notified about every hearing, and told her to call his office if she needs anything.

        Devonte's family welcomed other more unexpected visitors, too — the mother and sister of the 16-year-old accused of shooting the baby. The mother cried, Ms. Ross said.

        “I told her that I was sorry and asked how was her son doing,” said Nahiesha Ginyard, of Clifton, the 16-year-old's sister. “We're sorry, the whole family's sorry. We're praying.”

        Ms. Ross said she wasn't angry at the mother, whom she knew from the Deveroes store in Over-the-Rhine, where she worked.

        “I can't be angry at her,” she said. “But he's just ignorant.”

        Devonte was shot Friday evening on Vine Street as the teen fled from another man, 24-year-old Dominick Mitchem. As he ran, prosecutors say, he fired blindly over his shoulder at Mr. Mitchem, striking Devonte once in the torso.

        Police said he used a gun handed to him by a 19-year-old cousin, who also may be charged.

        Ms. Ross said she also recognized Mr. Mitchem from Deveroes.

        Just before the shooting, Ms. Ross said, the 16-year-old sat talking with Devonte's 6-year-old brother, Alfonso, about a bicycle.

        The bullet hit Devonte's liver and diaphragm, missing a crucial artery by a half-inch. He continued to improve Monday. His catheter was removed, and he woke up asking for juice. He smiled and waved, scooted around his bed and watched a TV.

        Doctors say he might be able to go home Friday.

        Ms. Ginyard said her brother “has a violent background.”

        He also has a long history with Hamilton County's juvenile courts and family services.

        According to officials at the county's Department of Job and Family Services, the teen spent years bouncing from foster homes to group homes to juvenile detention facilities.

        “He's had a troubled family life,” said the department's spokeswoman, Laurie Petrie. “We were trying to help. We tried a number of different types of facilities and he still continued to have run-ins with the law.

        “This is a really, really sad situation.”

        The teen's most recent run-in with the law came last year when he was arrested for his involvement with a stolen car. He was convicted of receiving stolen property and spent nearly a year in a state juvenile detention facility.

        He was released in May.

        “It's unfortunate he appears to have gotten into trouble again, so soon after his release,” Ms. Petrie said.

        Ms. Ginyard, 19, said she has never known her brother to use guns. Friday's shooting was prompted by a continuing feud between her brother and Mr. Mitchem. The two knew each other, Ms. Ginyard said, because she dated Mr. Mitchem for eight months last year.

        Ms. Ginyard does not know why her brother was in Over-the-Rhine Friday night, but several cousins still live in the neighborhood.

        She said she thought her brother was trying to get back on his feet and planned to attend Woodward High School this fall.

        Ms. Ross plans to rebuild her life too — in a new neighborhood and with a new job. She doesn't want to return to Over-the-Rhine to work and wants to move out of Fay Apartments. Mayor Charlie Luken's office has offered to help her find a new job.

        “The last thing my kids need to hear,” she said, “is more gunshots.”


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