One of the family members of Bonn Rassavong wore a T-shirt to court that read “#justiceforbonn” for the murder trial of the two Akron brothers accused of his shooting death.
He and Rassavong’s other family celebrated Friday when this hashtag came true.
After deliberating for about seven hours, Summit County jurors found Donyea and Orlando Tyus guilty in the random shooting deaths of Rassavong and Robert McCall and the attempted shootings of two other people last July.
“I’m very thankful the guys were caught and no longer have a chance to hurt anyone else,” said Bonn Rassavong, Rassavong’s son, who sat through the nearly two-week trial.
The Tyus brothers’ loved ones, however, were devastated when they heard the brothers had been found guilty of all seven charges against them, including aggravated murder.
“I’m in shock,” said one of their family members, who was too distraught to talk.
Jurors found the brothers guilty of two counts each of aggravated murder, murder and felonious assault — all with gun specifications — and one count each of having weapons while under disability. This means they were prohibited from having a firearm because of previous convictions.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty will sentence the brothers at 9 a.m. July 29. They could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The brothers, who chose not to testify, say they are innocent. They are expected to appeal.
Prosecutors say Donyea Tyus, 30, and Orlando Tyus, 28, randomly chose people across Akron to shoot in the early morning hours of July 7, 2018. Rassavong and McCall died, while Conn Rassavong, Bonn’s brother, and a 51-year-old woman survived after a gun malfunctioned.
Cheyenne James, the brothers’ alleged accomplice, was the prosecution’s key witness. She testified that the brothers threatened to kill her unless she killed someone else like she had just seen them do. She said the brothers told her they were starting a group, and the initiation required a murder.
James said she attempted to shoot a 51-year-old woman, but the gun malfunctioned and the woman escaped.
James, 21, pleaded guilty to one count of felonious assault for the shooting attempt and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 5. In exchange for her testimony against the brothers, prosecutors agreed not to charge her for the murders.
Defense attorneys argued James, a self-described heroin addict, couldn’t be trusted because she lied to police and might not be identifying the real shooters either out of fear or because she was high at the time of the shootings.
Prosecutors, however, said James never wavered in her identification of the brothers as the shooters and said her account was supported by other evidence. This included cellphones associated with the brothers that were used at the time of the shootings in about the same area as the incidents occurred.
“These men terrorized several Akron neighborhoods and killed two men for no reason. I cannot think of a more evil act,” Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said in a news release. “These were innocent victims who were minding their own business when confronted by two evil men.”
Mike George and Jeff James, the attorneys for Donyea, declined to comment until the sentencing.
“We respect the jury’s decision,” said Joe Gorman, who represented Orlando, along with attorney Dave Lombardi. “It would be inappropriate to comment any further than that prior to sentencing.”
When the Rassavong family heard the jury’s first guilty verdict — for aggravated murder in Bonn’s death — they spontaneously clapped. Outside the courtroom, they cried and embraced.
“He can rest in peace now,” said Kathleen Burkett, Bonn’s ex-wife and the mother of his two adult sons. “I’m happy our boys can move on with their lives.”
Bonn Rassavong, 26, said this had been a traumatic experience for his family for more than a year.
“It felt like we were holding our breath for the whole year,” he said.
The family said the randomness of the shootings made them even worse.
“It’s hard for us to understand — what’s the idea behind it,” Bonn said. “Why is that your way of trying to form a group? It’s almost like trying to understand a whole other world. It was senseless in every definition.”
Burkett said she feels for members of the Tyus family, who are also suffering.
"My heart feels bad for his family," she said, wiping away tears. “We lost all the way around.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.