When Tyree Feaster was arrested by Akron police and jailed in 2007 in connection with the fatal shooting of Shawrica Lester, one of his jail visitors was a longtime local minister: the Rev. Fred Lester of Akron Bible Church — Shawrica Lester’s grandfather.
After reading comments this week from Feaster’s attorney, who declined to say where Feaster was headed after winning his release from state prison Tuesday, the minister and his daughter, Sandra Lester, both denied ever having threatened Feaster, as the attorney claimed.
Fred Lester, who said he has been doing ministry work at the Summit County Jail for the past 10 years, recalled the day he visited Feaster in his cell in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
“We wouldn’t have made it through this as a family if we didn’t have our faith in the Lord,” he said.
It was because of their faith, he said, that they knew they had to forgive Feaster.
“We forgave him as a family, and I told him that when I ministered to him at the Summit County Jail. And that’s been our stance ever since this happened. If that’s a threat, then maybe ‘threat’ is defined wrong.”
Shawrica Lester was 18 when she was fatally shot outside the Cage teen nightclub in January 2007 following a brawl and an exchange of gunfire by rival gang members.
Akron police originally arrested six suspects for the shooting and fight.
Feaster, who was 17 at the time, pleaded guilty in juvenile court to involuntary manslaughter, participating in criminal gang activity and other offenses.
He originally was sent to the Department of Youth Services until age 21.
But after Feaster was involved in two fights at a youth facility in Marion, Summit County Juvenile Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio ruled that he violated his 2007 plea deal and sentenced him to 13 years in prison.
However, state prison officials approved Feaster’s release this week after Summit County prosecutors dismissed all charges against him instead of seeking a retrial.
Prosecutors said they had no choice. There were no witnesses willing to testify against him, they said.
Feaster’s release was set in motion in December when the Ohio Supreme Court cleared the way for the withdrawal of his guilty pleas.
The basis for the high court’s decision was an omission by Teodosio when she took Feaster’s plea. She did not inform him of probation sanctions he would face upon his release, and in failing to do so, the high court ruled, Feaster did not enter into the plea agreement voluntarily, intelligently and knowingly, as required by Ohio law in both juvenile and adult courts.
Shawrica Lester’s mother, Sandra, said she wished to stress that she still is upset about Teodosio’s omission.
“I know that [Feaster’s] out on a technicality. That’s what I know in my heart,” she said, “and the technicality is the judge didn’t do her job.
“But I would never threaten him. My father has ministered to that boy in the Summit County Jail. He went there and visited that boy and talked to him.
“And I told Tyree I forgive him, but I don’t like him, at all. And that’s just how I feel. I want this to be over.”
She said it has taken a long time to get her life in order since her daughter’s death. She said pursuing an associate degree in the arts is one of the undertakings that has helped her.
Eventually, she said, she hopes to move to Colorado, where another daughter is planning to go to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“It took five years for me to stop crying when I tried to talk about this. I mean, I get upset and get a little hyper at times,” she said, “but I’ve learned to control that now.”
She said her faith and her willingness “to put this in God’s hands” has been the greatest help in coping with her daughter’s death.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.