Jamall Vaughn was sleepless, nervous and vomiting what little food he had eaten.
For a seventh-grader, he held a lot of adult worries. In mid-March, he became a father for the first time, shortly after turning 14 and just months after his parents split up.
“That was the trouble, I thought — mainly … him being a teen parent,” his mother, Misty Carswell, said during an interview Tuesday.
Still, Jamall’s parents sensed there was something else wrong. So, a family meeting was called inside their Westwood Avenue duplex on Akron’s near-west side.
The parents weren’t prepared for what they were about to hear. No parent would be.
What followed that afternoon was Jamall’s graphic eyewitness account of the slaying of Jeffrey and Margaret “Peg” Schobert, who were bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer inside their New Franklin home’s bedroom April 2.
For the days that followed the killing, Carswell, 33, said her son was struggling with the horrific images seared into his young mind. She said he poured out those emotions during the family meeting a day after the attack and identified Shawn Ford, 18, as the killer.
Jamall told his parents he went with Ford only out of fear and that he believed Ford’s intentions merely were to steal from the wealthy Schoberts, whose daughter Ford had been dating.
“[Jamall’s] a good kid, very loving,” Carswell said. “I never thought he’d get drawn into something like this. I have to imagine it was traumatic. [But] I know he didn’t know that Shawn was going down there to do this to those people.”
Although he had not been identified as a suspect, they all agreed after the family meeting and after speaking with a counselor that Jamall should meet with police and tell his story.
Afterward, he was arrested and charged in Summit County Juvenile Court on charges of aggravated murder, robbery and burglary. Prosecutors have said they want to try Jamall as an adult and will seek a life sentence in prison.
Carswell said her son does not deserve to be treated as an adult. She said he was threatened and coerced into traveling with Ford to the Schoberts’ home. Further, she said, her son did not take part in the killings, but rather heard and watched Ford attack the couple at separate times.
“I know he was there with the boy,” Carswell said. “And even if he knew they were going there to take something, charge him with robbery. But I don’t think he should be charged with aggravated murder for being manipulated by an 18-year-old. He’s never been a violent kid. He’s never been involved in gangs, nothing.”
Ford was dating the Schoberts’ daughter, Chelsea, an 18-year-old high school senior, at the time of the attack on her parents. Weeks earlier, police say, Ford beat and slashed her during an assault March 23 in Akron.
At the time of the assault on Chelsea, Ford was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a robbery charge. Police say he lied about the assault of his girlfriend, which led police initially to arrest an innocent man.
Police detectives say that all the while the Schoberts believed Ford was responsible for the assault of their daughter and forbade him from visiting her in the hospital. Police theorize Ford’s fear that Chelsea eventually would identify him as her attacker, and the Schoberts’ resistance to allowing him to visit, might have fueled the slayings.
Day of slayings
Jamall told his family Ford coerced him in the early morning hours of April 2 into traveling to New Franklin under the pretense of burglarizing the Schoberts’ home.
Ford had been to the home often and knew the Schoberts had cash and valuable jewelry inside.
Jamall said Ford was carrying a knife as the two teens made a 9-mile walk from Akron to Rex Lake Drive. He said there was no one else with them and no one drove them to the Schoberts’ home, Carswell said.
According to Jamall’s account, Jeff Schobert was asleep when the teens arrived. Some time after going inside, Ford’s demeanor became vicious and he attacked Schobert, cutting him with a knife before striking him several times in the head with a sledgehammer.
The account Jamall provided through Carswell is similar to what police have revealed.
“Jamall said he was shaking and scared and he was hoping that it was nightmare,” Carswell said. “[But] he didn’t help out. He was just there. He didn’t know. He said Shawn was acting like he was losing his mind.”
After killing Jeff Schobert, she said, Ford sent a text to Peg Schobert to gauge her arrival home. Peg Schobert was at Akron Children’s Hospital with Chelsea, who was still recovering from her injuries.
Police believe Peg Schobert was “ambushed” when she arrived home a few hours later and went inside her bedroom. Her attacker struck her in the head nearly 20 times with the sledgehammer.
Toteaina Carswell, 18, one of Jamall’s four siblings, recalled her brother saying Ford was elated with what happened in the Schoberts’ bedroom.
“He said [Ford] was happy,” the sister said Tuesday. “Whenever he did whatever he did to the dad, he texted the mom to try to find out when she would come home. He did whatever he did to the dad, and he was like, he couldn’t wait till she got there.
“After that happened to her, he was walking around and smiling and stuff and saying that he was glad they was dead.”
Afterward, the sledgehammer was placed on the bed next to Jeff Schobert.
The senseless brutality of the killing has reverberated throughout the area. Jeff Schobert, 56, was a prominent attorney. Peg Schobert, 59, was a popular volunteer for many civic and charity groups.
“That’s what I want to know: Why [Ford] hated those people,” Misty Carswell said.
After the killings, Ford and Jamall drove away inside the Schoberts’ SUV. Ford also threatened to harm Jamall if he spoke to police about the crime, Carswell said.
She said Ford dropped off her son near Fried Street in West Akron, where his 13-year-old girlfriend and their nearly month-old son live. Jamall had been staying at his girlfriend’s family’s home since Easter Sunday.
Ford then abandoned the SUV near Stoner Street, Carswell said.
He told police he lived with friends in a house near East South Street.
Blood at scene
During his meeting April 3 with police, Jamall wore the same clothes and shoes he wore during the attack on the Schoberts. Carswell said there was no blood visible on her son’s attire.
On the other hand, her son told police Ford was covered in blood and tried to clean blood from his face before leaving the New Franklin home. Afterward, she said, Ford burned his blood-soaked clothes.
Ford was arrested April 4, but did not immediately identify Jamall as his alleged accomplice. He has done so since, police said.
Jamall, who was arrested April 5 and remains in juvenile court custody, has been dating his girlfriend since about June 2011. He met Ford through his girlfriend’s older brothers.
Carswell said she and Jamall’s father tried to keep Ford away from their son.
“There was something about him, I don’t know, he didn’t seem like he would snap, he just seemed weird,” Carswell said. “Just his look and the way he would talk.”
Added Toteaina Carswell: “He wasn’t the average person.”
New Franklin Detective Mike Hitchings, the lead investigator in the slayings, said Ford’s criminal case was presented to a Summit County grand jury Monday. He had no further information about the proceedings.
Prosecutors are expected to pursue the death penalty against Ford.
Ford’s attorney, Jonathan T. Sinn, said he expected an indictment to be returned by the end of this week. Ford is tentatively scheduled to appear for possible arraignment before a county magistrate April 24.
Meanwhile, officials at the county jail are on alert about what Sinn described as concerns about Ford’s “mental health.” Authorities say Ford is under a suicide watch.
“I’m in touch at this point with my client and his family, and it’s our hope that he will come out of the suicide watch that he’s currently under and be able to assist in defending this case,” Sinn said.
Hitchings said Tuesday afternoon that he had not received any new leads on other possible suspects since the arrest of Jamall Vaughn.
Meanwhile, Juvenile Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio has scheduled a pretrial hearing for May 8.
A hearing at which prosecutors will argue for Jamall to be tried as an adult is expected to take place later.
For now, Jamall visits weekly with his family at the county detention center. His mother said she is trying to arrange a visit between Jamall and his son. A lifelong prison sentence is difficult for the mother to fathom.
The possibility of Jamall facing adult penalties “scares me to freaking death,” Carswell said. “I don’t know what I’d do. It’s so freaking scary.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PhilTrexler. Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.