The case against Donyea and Orlando Tyus — Akron brothers accused of random shootings across Akron — hinges on whether the prosecution's star witness can be believed.
Defense attorneys said Cheyenne James, an admitted heroin addict who got a plea deal, lied to police and may not have identified the true shooters.
“She’s a self-serving liar — about everything!” Joe Gorman, one of the attorneys for Orlando Tyus, said Thursday during closing arguments in the Tyus brothers’ murder trial. “How can you believe her?”
Prosecutors, however, said other evidence supported James’ account, and she never wavered in her identification of the shooters.
“Yeah, she’s terrible,” Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Mayer said of James. “She was consistent about two facts: Donyea was there. Orlando was there.”
Jurors now must weigh the credibility of James, along with the other evidence presented during a nearly two-week trial in Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty’s courtroom.
The trial concluded Thursday with closing arguments that lasted all day. Jurors chose a foreperson and will begin their deliberations Friday.
The brothers are accused of randomly choosing people across Akron to shoot in the early morning hours of July 7, 2018. Two people died, while two others escaped after a gun malfunctioned.
Donyea Tyus, 30, and Orlando Tyus, 28, are both charged with two counts each of aggravated murder, murder and felonious assault and one count each of having weapons while under disability. Both were prohibited from having a firearm because of a prior conviction.
James, 21, pleaded guilty in February to one count of felonious assault and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 5. She testified that she attempted to shoot a 51-year-old woman in the final shooting attempt but the gun malfunctioned. In exchange for her testimony against the brothers, prosecutors agreed not to charge her for the two murders.
Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel, alluding to his opening statement in the case, said the Tyus brothers were on a “mission to kill” that morning and each of them — including James — was supposed to claim a life.
“This was not a heat-of-the-moment,” he said. “This was not trying to steal something and something goes wrong. This was premeditated murder.”
Baumoel said James isn’t a victim and jurors may dislike her, but he said that doesn’t let the Tyus brothers “off the hook.”
Baumoel said James’ account is corroborated by other evidence. He said a surveillance video shows a car parking on Schiller Avenue — the site of the first shooting — for five to 10 minutes before anyone gets out. (The video didn’t show the shooting, just the back of the car from a distance.)
Baumoel also pointed to how James said Donyea told her he knew Robert McCall — the second shooting victim — from prison. Donyea and McCall were in prison several times for a total of two years.
Baumoel said records of cellphones associated with the brothers show they were in the areas of the shootings — first on the north side of the city and then the south side — when they occurred.
Gorman, however, said the records don’t prove that his client had the phone on him — just that this phone was in the area at the time. In the drug culture, he said, people often have several phones and share them.
Gorman said James’ identification of Orlando could have been skewed by how she was high at the time of the shootings and didn’t know Orlando as well as she did Donyea.
“The other possibility is that she was lying and protecting someone else,” he said.
Gorman, who represented Orlando with attorney Dave Lombardi, attempted to draw distinctions between Orlando and Donyea, who had his own lawyers. He said Donyea was the one in a cellphone photo shown during the trial holding a gun, who spent time in prison with McCall and who was connected to all of the cellphones used as evidence in the case.
“You have to look at their cases separate and apart,” Gorman said.
Donyea, upset by Gorman’s closing argument, directed a profanity-filled statement toward him during a break.
Jeff James, one of Donyea’s attorneys, pointed to a similarity in the brothers’ cases: a lack of physical evidence. No guns were recovered and no DNA or fingerprints were found on shell casings and live rounds recovered at the scenes.
Jeff James also highlighted information Cheyenne James got wrong, such as saying she and the brothers were in a light-colored car when a surveillance video showed the car was dark colored. He said she was complicit in the shootings.
“I ask you carefully to weigh what she has said,” he told jurors. “What is her motive?”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.