An Akron man was sentenced to life in prison Friday for his role in last summer’s fatal shooting of former Ellet High School football star Paris Wicks II.
Tony Deon Gray Jr., 26, will not be eligible for parole until 2040.
It’s a lengthy sentence that Gray could have avoided had he not rejected a pre-trial plea deal that would have guaranteed his release from prison in as few as 10 years, attorneys said.
But Gray — who was an accomplice but did not shoot Wicks and another man — took his case to trial in Summit County Common Pleas Court, hoping to win an acquittal. He will now appeal his murder, felonious assault and complicity to robbery convictions.
“I just want to say I didn’t kill nobody or shot nobody and I didn’t influence nobody to kill nobody,” Gray said to Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands.
Gray, however, was reminded by the judge during his sentencing hearing that Ohio law makes him equally responsible as the alleged shooter, 16-year-old Ramous L. Lewis of Akron.
“No one ever claimed you shot Paris Wicks ... but you were there,” Rowlands told the defendant. “And that is the truth. The cold hard truth.”
The judge went on to scold Gray, who prosecutors said was a street-gang mentor to the younger Lewis, for the lifestyle that he led. That street life put Gray in a Lovers Lane convenience store parking lot where the robbery and eventual shooting took place in the middle of the afternoon last Aug. 29 in Akron’s southeast neighborhood.
Rowlands recounted the violent videos Gray helped produce and upload onto the Internet. Jurors, who convicted Gray, never saw the videos. Rowlands ruled before trial that the films, which showed guns being shoved in people’s faces, were too prejudicial against Gray.
“You claim that you’re not a murderer, your mother says that you’re not a murderer. That may or may not be the case,” Rowlands said to Gray. “But the lesson to be taken from this, is the lesson to be taken throughout this community: don’t hang around with a murderer.
“Don’t hang around with somebody who may be a murderer. Who may murder. Don’t hang around with someone who makes videos and don’t be part of videos that are all about killing people, flashing guns, shoving them in the face of a person watching the video.
“Because what you portray yourself as, may or may not be who you are, but it is all that people have to go on. And you portrayed yourself as a murderer, happily, gleefully, in those videos. So it should come as no surprise to anyone, let alone you, that the jury found you to be guilty of murder.”
Gray is the first of four defendants to stand trial in the case.
Prosecutors are attempting to have Lewis’ case transferred from juvenile court so that he may be tried as an adult. Two other men are accused of lesser roles.
Wicks, 23, was shot twice and was attacked further with kicks as he lay on the parking lot asphalt. Prosecutors say he died at the scene attempting to help Branson Price, his friend and former Ellet teammate.
Price, also 23, was being robbed at gunpoint when the shooting unfolded. He was shot in the thigh, but managed to escape. Testimony showed that Price was armed with a gun prior to the robbery.
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 later played football at Youngstown State.
Ronda Wicks, the victim’s mother, and Gregory Harrison, a former Akron police officer and Paris Wicks’ godfather, both spoke in court about the former football star’s life.
Ronda Wicks noted the differences in the choices her son made and those made by Gray. While her son worked to live on his own, Gray, she said, chose “to rob and intimidate and terrorize his neighbors.”
The mother also recalled the day she rushed to the corner of Lovers Lane and South Arlington Street where she confirmed that her son had died.
“I felt the deepest pain that any mother is capable of, but should never have to feel,” she said, sniffling with tears.
Now, she said, she and her daughters are left with only memories, old emails and text messages, cards her son sent, and Instagram posts she plays “just so I can hear his voice.”
Harrison read a letter that was found on Paris Wicks’ grave. It was written by a former friend and co-worker and left at the cemetery.
“How do you start a letter to a dead best friend?” the friend wrote.
The letter recounted the kindness Paris Wicks had shown the woman over the one year they knew each other while working at a Bob Evans restaurant. To Harrison, the letter symbolized exactly the man Paris Wicks had become.
“That’s who Paris was,” he said. “Just Paris being Paris.”