By Ed Meyer
Beacon Journal staff writer
An Akron man was convicted Monday on one count of murder and other crimes in last summer’s fatal shooting of former Ellet High School football star Paris Wicks II.
Tony Deon Gray Jr., 26, will be sentenced at 11 a.m. Friday in Summit County Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands’ court.
He faces a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole until he serves at least 18 years, prosecutors said.
Gray is the first of four defendants to stand trial in the case.
The shooting occurred on the afternoon of Aug. 29 behind a city store, Lovers Lane Market, at Lovers Lane and South Arlington Street.
Wicks, 23, was shot twice. He died at the scene after attempting to help a friend and former Ellet teammate, Branson Price, also 23, who was being robbed at gunpoint in the mid-afternoon in the store parking lot.
A jury returned guilty verdicts against Gray on one count of felony murder, one count of felonious assault with a gun specification and one count of aggravated robbery.
He was found not guilty on a separate count of murder, with the underlying element of intent, and two counts of aggravated robbery.
Many of Wicks’ family members and friends sat quietly in the first two rows of the public gallery as the judge read the verdicts. Afterward, they huddled around Wicks’ mother, Rhonda Wicks, who said she was relieved by the outcome.
“I didn’t expect [guilty verdicts on] everything, but I knew he was responsible for some things,” she said, fighting back tears after discussing the weeklong trial and the trials to come with Summit Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi.
Jurors began deliberations Friday afternoon, but went home for the day at 8 p.m. without reaching a verdict.
Rhonda Wicks said prayer and reading helped her get through the weekend. She also had thoughts for the defendant’s family.
“My heart breaks for his mom and his grandmother,” she said.
Gray was not the shooter. Prosecutors, however, convinced jurors that he was complicit in the murder by helping the shooter leave the scene before police and emergency crews arrived. The shooter was identified in extensive court testimony as 15-year-old Ramous L. Lewis of Akron.
Minutes after the verdicts, several family members and friends of Gray, some crying and some shouting, watched in the courtroom hallway as he was led away in handcuffs by three sheriff’s deputies.
One man could be heard shouting, “Stay strong, Roney,” a reference to Gray’s nickname, as Gray was being escorted into the courtroom elevator on his way to jail.
Price, Wicks’ friend, was shot in the thigh during the robbery, but managed to get away and run toward a South Arlington Street business a block away. He testified at last week’s trial.
Paris Wicks was a former all-city tailback at Ellet High School who led the Orangemen to a share of the City Series title in 2006.
He was a non-scholarship athlete at Youngstown State, but his athletic career ended in the middle of his sophomore year, his mother said, when he suffered a serious knee injury in the spring game.
Lewis, now 16, is being held in the Summit County juvenile detention center as he awaits a hearing to determine if his case will be transferred to adult court.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.