When a Salvation Army pastor was struck by a bullet during a triple shooting at an Akron barbershop last December, he had two thoughts.
First, he told himself: “Brace yourself. This is going to hurt.”
Second, he thought, “This is the way you are going to die.”
James Jones Jr. locked eyes with Robert L. Rodgers and braced for another shot. It didn’t happen. Rodgers instead fled.
Jones faced Rodgers again Monday morning during his sentencing in Summit County Common Pleas Court and offered the younger man forgiveness.
“I’m going to be praying for you,” Jones told him. “I don’t hate you. But you did some damage.”
Rodgers, 25, of Akron, pleaded guilty last week under an agreement with prosecutors to charges stemming from the Dec. 1 shooting and an unrelated fentanyl overdose death.
Judge Jill Flagg Lanzinger sentenced Rodgers to 12 years in prison, the term agreed upon by prosecutors and Rodgers’ attorney, Charles Quinn. Rodgers could have faced up to 23 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Rodgers provided fentanyl to Kevin Snyder in August 2015 and Snyder died after taking it.
In an unrelated incident, police said Rodgers was in RP Blade Academy, a barbershop on West Exchange Street, for a haircut on Dec. 1 when a man walked into the barbershop and he and Rodgers began to argue. Rodgers pulled a gun from beneath his barber’s cape and started shooting, striking Jones, the 20-year-old man with whom he was arguing and a 17-year-old male. All three victims survived.
Rodgers was arrested Dec. 22 by a violent fugitive task force.
Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Nik Buckmeier said Jones was the only one of the shooting victims who cooperated with police. He thanked Jones for his assistance Monday.
Jones addressed Rodgers directly during his remarks, encouraging him to make the most of his time in prison.
“Think about the future,” he advised Rodgers. “Stay out of trouble. Learn the Bible. And maybe, just maybe, you have another chance.”
Rodgers turned and faced Jones, who was seated in the courtroom with his wife, Malinda Jones, also a corps captain with the Salvation Army’s Barberton Corps.
“Reverend, I’m sorry for you and the family,” he said.
Rodgers said Jones shouldn’t have had to go through what he went through.
Lanzinger told Rodgers that he won’t be eligible for judicial release, which means he will be required to serve the entire 12 years.
After the sentencing, Jones discussed his harrowing experience at RP Blade Academy, where he had been getting his hair cut for several years. On the day of the shooting, he said he had just completed the No Shave November challenge that is aimed at raising awareness about prostate cancer. He needed to get his hair and beard shaved for an opiate awareness event that Barberton Mayor Bill Judge was hosting.
Jones was sitting in a chair when he witnessed the argument between Rodgers and the 20-year-old man and then saw Rodgers pull out a gun and start shooting. Jones was struck in the left shoulder, with the bullet coming out of his back.
“It was shocking,” Jones recalled. “I wasn’t sure if it was reality or not. I kept hearing shots, looking around. People were running.”
Jones said he has recovered physically from the incident, but is still mentally scarred.
As Jones was talking, Rodgers’ father came up to him and said, “I apologize on behalf of my son.” The two men embraced.
Jones’ injury hurt the Salvation Army’s kettle drive in Barberton during the holiday season. Jones’ wife tried her best to make up for her husband’s absence.
Jones said he hasn’t returned to his old barbershop and doesn’t plan to anytime soon.
“I’m not going to reveal my new barber,” he added, chuckling.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj .