Jeff and Peg Schobert had less than eight months to live after their young daughter starting dating Shawn Eric Ford Jr.
The end took root in the summer of 2012, when Chelsea Schobert, a wealthy suburban teen attending one of Akron’s more affluent Catholic high schools, began dating Ford, an inner-city dropout born into poverty to a 15-year-old single mother.
Chelsea Schobert, dressed Thursday in prison orange, recounted for a Summit County jury her teenage self destruction that led her to fall in love with Ford after four months. She also recalled her parents’ doting nature, which they extended to Ford, buying him new clothes, fancy dinners and helping with finding a job.
But by her 18th birthday that following March, Ford would beat and stab her nearly to death inside a run-down party house in Akron because, she said, she was too drunk and declined his demand for sex. And it was while she lay in a hospital bed that Ford and a 14-year-old friend, prosecutors allege, made the long walk from Akron to the Schoberts’ home in New Franklin.
Apparently angry that the Schoberts were keeping him away from their daughter, Ford and his friend took a sledgehammer from the family garage and attacked Jeff Schobert in his bed the morning of April 1. They then did the same to Peg when she arrived after spending the night at her daughter’s bedside.
For this, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Ford, whose trial opened Thursday in Summit County Common Pleas Court.
Ford’s defense attorneys made no claims of innocence during their opening statements to jurors. In fact, during a hearing last month, defense attorneys Donald Hicks and Jon Sinn revealed a failed plea deal that would have seen Ford plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole.
Instead, the state is seeking to execute Ford, now 20, for the graphic slaying. Testimony resumes Friday and is expected to extend into next week.
Court began with a warning to spectators in the nearly full gallery. Prosecutors intended to show jurors five crime scene photos that Judge Tom Parker called “disturbing, to say the least.”
Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi then laid out the state’s case to jurors with a brief history of the Schobert family: Jeffrey, 56, the prominent, gracious attorney; and Margaret, known to friends as Peg, the 59-year-old watchful, generous mother.
Like her older sister Jessica, Chelsea was adopted, a fact she learned at age 5, but something that never affected her indulged life.
Chelsea testified that she met Ford through Facebook when she was 17 and heading into her senior year at Archbishop Hoban High School. He was a friend of her ex-boyfriend. Soon, they met for a date and she took him to her family’s home in New Franklin that very day.
It was a clash of cultures in a sense. It was Chelsea who had the car. It was Chelsea who always paid the way. At times, her parents took out Ford and members of his family for dinners, sometimes driving into some of Akron’s roughest neighborhoods.
While the Schoberts tried to accept Ford into their family, they eventually grew weary of his influence over Chelsea, at one point putting a GPS on their rebellious daughter’s car.
Things got rocky between Chelsea and Ford soon after Christmas when they declared their love for each other, she told jurors.
“He was kind of getting rough, in a sense,” Chelsea told jurors. “And I started backing away easily.”
On March 22, 2013, Chelsea again picked up Ford and two of his friends. They had planned to get drunk to celebrate Chelsea’s 18th birthday. It was during that party, while the two were in a bedroom, when Ford attacked Chelsea, first with his fists, and later, after walking to the kitchen, with a knife.
At the hospital, suffering from spinal and neck injuries, Chelsea blamed another man for the attack. By chance, she identified the same man Ford had fingered to police. She feared Ford if she told the truth, she said.
“I thought if [Ford] found out, I’d be in worse condition than I already was,” Chelsea, now 19, told jurors.
She also tried to arrange a goodbye meeting with Ford, she said, to ease potential tension.
“I felt if I didn’t see him, he’d get mad and come and see me and that would be the end of it. I’d get hurt,” Chelsea told jurors.
Her parents forbade it, blaming Ford for putting their daughter in harm’s way. But prosecutors said a brooding Ford once paced the halls of Akron Children’s Hospital in a failed attempt to visit Chelsea. Her parents kept him off the visitation list, which prosecutors say helped push him to kill the couple.
LoPrinzi said the Schoberts were each struck more than a dozen times with the sledgehammer before the suspects fled in the couple’s vehicle. Within days, Ford and co-defendant Jamall L. Vaughn, now 15, were taken into custody.
Each has cooperated with investigators, sealing a case — coupled with DNA evidence — that LoPrinzi said would push jurors past reasonable doubt to “beyond all doubt.”
Vaughn will be tried later as an adult on aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary charges.
During about two hours on the witness stand, Chelsea Schobert remained poised, speaking directly with little emotion aside from an occasional chuckle. Even when she was shown her mother’s ring and watch — which Ford is alleged to have stolen after the killing — Chelsea showed no outward reaction. She and Ford, seated just eight feet away from the witness box, barely made eye contact.
She said she has never spoken to Ford since the beating and her parents’ slaying. She did say, however, that her life continued to unravel after her parents’ death, changing her “way of living and thinking.”
The destruction culminated months later, she said, when she took a portion of her inheritance to score a bulk purchase of cocaine with a new boyfriend. They were arrested. She is now serving 30 months in prison for drug trafficking.
“It just went downhill and spiraling out of control,” she testified. “I met the wrong people.”
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.