Ten days before trial, Summit County prosecutors Friday dismissed all charges against an Akron man accused in last year’s shooting death of 11-year-old Carmella Holley.
Prosecutors say their decision was forced by a key witness who now refuses to testify against defendant Vernon Singleton after receiving retaliatory threats.
Last August, Carmella was inside a Keys Place apartment in South Akron, eating candy and watching a movie with her mother and some friends, when she was struck by a bullet that pierced a wall of the second-floor unit.
She was taken to Akron Children’s Hospital, where she died four hours later.
Authorities alleged that Singleton, 26, and a Columbus man, Terrance L. Roane, 19, were shooting at each other during an altercation outside the complex.
Carmella was struck by a stray bullet.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh issued a statement Friday morning saying she was forced to drop the case against Singleton after her sole eyewitness refused to testify.
The witness, identified by Singleton’s attorney as Roane, claimed his family was threatened, Walsh said.
“There are people in Akron who know exactly what happened the night Carmella Holley was murdered, but they refuse to stand up for an 11-year-old girl and her devastated family,” Walsh said in the statement.
“Yes, it is scary to sit in that witness box. And, yes, it is easier to swear you saw and know nothing. But someone has to be brave enough to ignore the no-snitching culture and help us seek justice for Carmella Holley and every other victim of witness-less crime if we want to end the violence in Akron.”
Singleton faced charges of murder, felonious assault, possessing a weapon under disability and discharging a firearm into a habitation or school. His murder trial was scheduled to begin July 30.
But shortly after 12:30 Friday afternoon, Singleton walked out of the county jail a free man — for the second time in the controversial case.
Singleton hugged his lawyer, Jonathan Sinn, inside the security checkpoint of the main jail entrance, then made his way outside, smiling broadly.
“I feel beautiful,” Singleton said. “I just want to thank my lawyer and thank everybody. I’m real happy, glad that it came out the way it did.”
Asked if he participated in the exchange of gunfire at Keys Place, in any way, Singleton immediately replied: “No, sir.”
“I did what anybody else would do hearing a bullet, I ran,” he said.
Akron police originally issued a warrant for Singleton on Aug. 8, 2011, five days after Carmella died.
But exactly one month later, after he turned himself in at police headquarters, a grand jury issued a no bill. It meant prosecutors had insufficient evidence to criminally charge Singleton, leading to his release the first time.
Early this year, however, Singleton was indicted again and charged with murder.
Sinn explained what happened: Roane, who is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 1 on charges of felonious assault and various firearms offenses, told prosecutors he would testify against Singleton, Sinn said, provided that they would be willing to negotiate Roane’s case.
“Terrance Roane has subsequently recanted that testimony and indicated, in fact, that Vernon Singleton is an innocent man,” Sinn said.
He said he and his private investigator, Thomas R. Fields of Accurate Investigative Services, went into the community and found eyewitnesses who said there were several shooters in the parking lot and that Singleton was merely there as a bystander.
Singleton, who said he is married with two sons, ages 2 and eight months, insisted following Friday’s release that he did not participate in the shooting spree.
“I’m sorry for what happened to [Carmella’s] loved ones, but I had nothing to do with it. And everything proved to be the way it is, or I wouldn’t be walking out this front door,” Singleton said.
Walsh said prosecutors plan to continue to seek justice in the case.
“There is no statute of limitation on murder, and my office is hopeful that someone will come forward and be willing to testify about what happened the night of Aug. 3, 2011,” Walsh said.
Numerous Beacon Journal attempts to contact Carmella’s family members were unsuccessful.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.