A Summit County Juvenile Court jury convicted a Barberton teen of the 2011 rape and murder of his 3-year-old half sister following a little more than two hours of deliberations Thursday evening.
D’Marques “DJ” Jones, 17, sat next to his defense attorney, Scott Rilley, and stared straight ahead, saying nothing, as Juvenile Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio read the guilty verdicts.
Rilley had his right arm around the teen’s shoulders during the judge’s announcement.
It was the first jury trial of a minor in Summit Juvenile Court history, attorneys and court officials said.
Teodosio held off her sentencing decision, instead ordering a sex-offender assessment for Jones and any course of treatment deemed necessary.
Under Ohio law governing juveniles, Jones can be held in custody at a state facility for minors for a maximum term only until the age of 21.
In the likelihood that Teodosio issues a formal finding that he is a serious youth offender, however, an adult prison sentence could be invoked if Jones commits any serious offenses while in juvenile custody.
The 12-member jury, split evenly between men and women, heard more than two hours of closing arguments Thursday before beginning their deliberations.
Rilley, in his opening statement Tuesday, laid the foundation of the teen’s defense by telling the panel: “Timing is everything in this case. Pay close attention to it.”
Summit Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi seized on those words in his closing arguments, attempting to convince the panel of the teen’s guilt.
On the afternoon of June 18, the start of what was supposed to be a joyous Father’s Day weekend at a Barberton apartment on Herms Court, 3-year-old Makayla Jones was fine, LoPrinzi said. And when DJ, Makayla and their four siblings played outside for several hours that Saturday in a spirited water gun fight, once again, LoPrinzi said, the child was fine.
Makayla was fine that night when she went to bed, the prosecutor repeated. And when she got up Father’s Day morning and had some cereal for breakfast, there was no change in her condition.
But in little more than two hours, when the mother and father of the children returned from Sunday church services after leaving DJ Jones, then age 15, in charge, everything changed, LoPrinzi emphasized.
“Who is the only [person] supervising that’s alone with Makayla, at any time? It’s D’Marques,” LoPrinzi said, “so he is the sole individual with responsibility over this child that had the opportunity to injure this little girl.”
Three days after emergency surgery that Sunday afternoon at Akron Children’s Hospital, Makayla was dead. Cause of death, according to Summit autopsy results, was severe inflammation and infection of the abdomen from a 1½-inch rupture of the colon.
LoPrinzi told the jurors to do what investigators and forensic scientists at the state crime lab did: check Makayla’s clothes.
He said scientists found “uncontroverted evidence that the seminal fluid and the sperm found in [Makayla’s] underwear belonged to one individual: D’Marques Jones.”
In his closing, Rilley attempted to establish reasonable doubt by saying the surgical report of the doctor who tried to save Makayla’s life, Dr. David Andrews, indicated the colon injury was more than 24 hours old.
“In black and white, unequivocally, it states: ‘more than 24 hours,’ in black and white. In black and white,” Rilley said slowly and calmly to jurors.
He argued further that Wednesday’s trial testimony of a forensic expert from the state crime lab, Brittani Howard, showed what she called a “weak positive result” in her presumptive tests for the presence of sperm cells in the underwear.
Rilley stressed during the trial that Makayla’s underwear came from a dirty clothes basket in which other items of clothing commingled — thus raising the possibility of DNA transfer.
Howard said in cross-examination, Rilley told the jury, that touch or transfer DNA cell samples are possible.
Pointing to the surgical report of Andrews and Howard’s testimony, Rilley told jurors that the state “can’t tell you anything about the who, what, where, when or why about this injury, and that is not proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.