More guns, younger victims: Lexington murders hit 15-year high

Black Lives Matter candlelit vigil at Triangle park

A candlelit Black Lives Matter vigil was held at Triangle park Saturday evening in memory of Alton Sterling of Louisiana and Philando Castile of Minnesota, who were fatally shot by police officers on July 5th and 6th.
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A candlelit Black Lives Matter vigil was held at Triangle park Saturday evening in memory of Alton Sterling of Louisiana and Philando Castile of Minnesota, who were fatally shot by police officers on July 5th and 6th.

Nearly all of Lexington’s 24 murders last year — the most in more than a decade — were committed with guns, and the victims were among the youngest ever.

The 24 murders are the most since 2001, according to data obtained by the Herald-Leader through the Freedom of Information Act. The number of deaths coincidentally represents the average age of all victims in 2016.

Murders in 2016 increased 50 percent from 2015. Lexington’s murder record stands at 27 in both 1999 and 2001.

More than 95 percent of last year’s deaths — 23 of the 24 — were caused by gun violence. The only year since 2005 that approaches that rate was 2012, when 83 percent of murder victims were killed by a gun.

The sharp rise in gun violence is of great concern to Police Chief Mark G. Barnard, who called the deaths “so senseless.”

“The second amendment is such a passionate debate,” Barnard said. “It’s not about whether you have the right to use arms or not. ... I don’t think anyone wanted to guarantee that you could victimize somebody with a weapon. We’re looking at people that are being victimized and people that are truly innocent, that are becoming victims of gun violence.”

Among the gun victims were a toddler and a young mother-to-be who was out walking a dog.

Barnard said he thinks the rise in murders is tied to economic, drug, and addiction problems in Lexington and the country at large.

“If you break down what most of what our homicides look like now, there’s some nexus to drug behavior,” Barnard said. “That’s not everyone, and I don’t want to paint with a broad brush, but there’s always a connection, whether it’s to our property crime or our violent crime. We can’t ignore the fact that addiction is a strong issue in Lexington and across the United States. And that’s associated with crime; always has been.”

In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Jim Gray said, “One murder is too many. ... We know we still have a lot of work to do. In ongoing courageous conversations with leaders across the community we’re digging deep into the root causes behind the gun and drug violence, united in our determination to work together to seek improvements. And we are building on gains in public safety … something I will address in our next budget.”

Over the course of the year, the police department made numerous changes in response to the rise in murders, Barnard said.

The department doubled the staff of its narcotics division and has assigned two detectives to work with opiate overdoses. The violent crimes task force was turned into a full-time unit that works specifically on shootings. And in 2017, the police department will nearly double its gang unit staff, Barnard said without releasing detailed numbers.

The department has about 600 officers and staff. In December 2014, that number was about 550.

A closer look at crime data reveals that black people have been killed at a disproportionate rate than whites or any other race since 2010. In 2016, blacks accounted for about 57 percent of murder victims, 30 percent were white, 9 percent were Hispanic, and 4 percent were another ethnicity, according to the city’s breakdown of victims.

White people accounted for 78 percent of people living in Fayette County, blacks made up 15 percent, and Hispanics made up 7 percent, according to U.S. Census data from 2015.

Kentucky Sen. Reginald Thomas represents the Winburn community where Maryiah Coleman, 22, and her unborn son, Jakobe, were shot and killed on Sept. 7. About a month later, Winburn native James Augustus Blair, 27, was shot in downtown Lexington. He later died at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. Thomas attended the vigils for all three victims to decry the spike in gun violence in Lexington.

“A death is a death, in my opinion,” Thomas said about the rise in black murder victims. “My constituency covers all races across the board. I’m just concerned about the loss of life. We’ve got to address that now.”

The cases of Coleman, her son, and Blair are open, meaning police have not arrested or charged anyone in their deaths. In 2016, the police department had a 58 percent homicide clearance rate, an 11-year low. The clearance rate in 2015 was 75 percent.

The 2015 national clearance rate was 61 percent, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The national clearance rate for 2016 was unavailable.

Between 2005 and 2015, Lexington’s clearance rate has hovered between 75 and 100 percent.

Lexington police public information officer Brenna Angel called the department’s clearance rate a fluid statistic that will change.

“It’s not unusual for a case to take several months, a year or even longer to clear,” Angel said. “If and when an arrest is made, our data will be updated.”

Barnard said he thinks clearance rates are important, but only for the purpose of statistics. Evidence and support from the community can help clear cases.

“I am very confident many of the open cases will be solved,” Barnard said. “It’s just a matter of time. Things are different now; courts require more, juries require more, we’re in that ‘CSI effect’ where you have to make sure that you’re gathering all that information. DNA data can take eight months to a year sometimes. You’re not going to move forward without that information because you want to present everything you can.”

Victor Kappeler, the dean of the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, expressed similar concerns surrounding clearance rates.

“While homicides are statistics thought to be the most accurate on violent crime, they can be highly volatile,” Kappeler said.

Thomas said one way the clearance rate could be addressed is through even more community policing; having officers walking the streets and “pressing the flesh,” he said. A concern expressed by the victims’ families at the 2016 Winburn-related vigils was the police department’s inability to make witnesses feel safe in coming forward with information without facing repercussions from the community. This is commonly known as being a snitch.

“We still have work to do in Lexington creating trust between police and the black community,” Thomas said. “We’re not where we are supposed to be, ideally.”

The stigma around snitching is not unique to Lexington, Kappeler said.

“The ‘don’t-snitch’ culture is across the country,” Kappeler said. “One of the things Lexington police has done well is outreach in minority communities. It does allow them to have contact in the community. It also tells them, anytime a cop shows up, it’s not always bad. That kind of outreach has insulated it from having a lower clearance rate than they have right now.”

To allow anonymous tips, the police department uses Bluegrass Crime Stoppers ( which allows anyone to submit text or media, Barnard said. Also, anyone can text “lexpd” plus the tip to 274637. Anonymous information can be called in to 859-253-2020.

The effort to foster relationships is continuing, Barnard said. The department has neighborhood resource officers assigned to higher-risk areas in Lexington. Each officer is supposed “to be seen, to be known, to handle every issue that’s coming up, whether that’s government, whether it’s code enforcement, whether it’s lighting on a tree, street lighting or trash,” Barnard said. The department also prides itself on its school and church programs aimed at addressing risky behavior by youths, Barnard said.

One of the most startling statistics gleaned from the data was how young the Lexington murder victims were in 2016. Aside from Coleman’s unborn son, the youngest murder victim was Nova Maria Hillman, 2, who died Dec. 7 after being shot. Seven of the 24 victims were 18 or younger. The oldest murder victim in 2016 was Stephanie Anne Mullins, 46, who was found dead in August.

Police could provide the ages for all victims only dating back to 2011, when the average age was 29. In 2015, the average age was 38.

“A 16-year-old today is not a 16-year-old two years ago because of social media,” Barnard said. “We used to depend on the family. Now kids have access to everything. Violence is a learned behavior. Overall, we have to look at that and say, ‘What are the responsibilities of breaking that cycle that we’re seeing?’”

Thomas attributed the youth of the victims in 2016 to the relative ease with which teenagers have obtained guns. Thomas cited three instances in November when Tates Creek High School students brought guns to campus. School-appointed police officers were able to confiscate each weapon before anything happened. The school district has since entertained the idea of implementing random metal detectors at all Lexington high schools.

The following is a synopsis of each murder in 2016, along with the most available information on each case.

Joseph McDowell, 28

Jan. 2 — open investigation

McDowell was found shot multiple times in a driveway near the sidewalk of 432 Roosevelt Boulevard. He was found about 5:15 a.m. and was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. A vigil for McDowell is planned for 3 p.m. Saturday on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Corenz White, 28

Jan. 3

White was found about 1:12 a.m. by police in the parking lot of University Trails apartments at 845 Red Mile Road. He had been shot in the chest. Police were responding to a report of an intoxicated person. White died at the scene.

He had been to a party with Donald Owen Roark Jr., 25, and another person, Barnard said in a news conference Jan. 13. Roark was arrested the day of the killing on charges of murder and tampering with evidence. Roark had a handful of previous charges, including theft, receiving stolen property and fleeing from police.

Roark’s bond was set at $250,000, then reduced to $125,000 on June 21, despite letters from White’s mom urging Judge Thomas Clark to do otherwise. Roark was released on bail on Nov. 16.

Caleb Hallett, 18

Jan. 9

Hallett and his friend Josh Baker were visiting a house on the 200 block of University Avenue when they were shot during an attempted robbery.

Kenyon Hipps, 21, Marquess L. Smith, 19, and Marique Q. Sturgis, 18, were in a car when they saw Hallett and Baker walk from the house they had targeted to Hallett’s car, police said. The three suspects got out and approached Hallett’s car. Hallett said something that led to Smith shooting into the car, police said. Hipps committed suicide on Jan. 20 in Dayton, Ohio, police said.

Smith was charged with two counts of first-degree robbery, and one count each of assault and murder. He pleaded not guilty. Sturgis, who was 17, was charged with contempt of court, murder, assault, wanton endangerment, criminal mischief and two counts of robbery.

Smith’s mother and grandmother sent letters to Judge Ernesto Scorsone asking for leniency. Smith also wrote a letter to Scorsone. At least eight letters from Hallett’s family and friends also were sent to Scorsone asking him to not consider any bail reductions. Smith’s bail was set at $500,000 on Oct. 12.

Sturgis’ mother sent Scorsone a letter on July 1 asking for leniency. A motion to suppress Sturgis’ police statement was filed by his attorney, Carmen Ross, on Aug. 4, claiming that detectives violated his Fifth Amendment rights. Scorsone denied the motion on Oct. 20. Sturgis’ bail was set at $100,000.

Timothy Brown Jr., 23

Jan. 12

Brown was found shot in a car about 9:40 p.m. at McDonald’s near Russell Cave and New Circle roads.

Brown was allegedly shot by Devonte M. Hobbs, 21, during a drug deal, detective Brandon Helm said. A struggle for a handgun caused two shots to go off before Hobbs grabbed the gun and fired a shot at Brown, according to police.

Brown’s fiancée, Kristina Stevens, told the Herald-Leader in January 2016 that he was a father of five girls younger than 5 and was trying to improve himself.

“He was doing whatever he could to make sure the kids and his family were taken care of,” Stevens said.

Hobbs was arrested in February by U.S. marshals in Detroit on charges of murder and first-degree robbery. In April, Hobbs admitted to shooting Brown and getting rid of the gun, Helm said.

Laroz Mitchell, 23

Feb. 19

Mitchell died of multiple gunshots at UK hospital after a fight at Camelot East, a strip club at 2606 Richmond Road.

Multiple witnesses told police they saw Mitchell and Clarence W. Taylor, known as “Pooty,” fight at the bar, according to court records. The fight moved outside, where a witness saw Taylor shoot Mitchell, police said.

Taylor was arrested on Feb. 24 on a murder charge. He pleaded not guilty. Taylor’s bail was set at $250,000 and then was reduced to $75,000 on Aug. 31. On Sept. 13, the commonwealth filed documents claiming that Taylor’s father, pastor Stephen Lyons, heard his son admit to killing Mitchell. Taylor’s trial is set to begin March 6.

Sukenia Rice, 36

Feb. 28

Rice died from a gunshot wound just after noon at Lexington’s Pittman Creek Court, according to a news release from the Fayette County coroner’s office.

Rice’s death was ruled a homicide, and her alleged shooter, Antonio Brooks, 37, died of a gunshot wound less than an hour later at UK Hospital, according to the coroner’s office. Brooks’ death was ruled a suicide.

Brooks had been out on bond on charges of misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving under the influence, according to court records. He had previously served jail sentences for robbery, drug possession and “assault under extreme emotional disturbance,” according to court records.

Amy Koegel, 43

May 20

Koegel was killed during an argument over an inheritance that her boyfriend, William Pomeroy, had just received.

Detective Tyson Carroll testified that a police officer found Koegel’s body on May 20 during a welfare check at the couple’s house on Pinkney Drive. The couple had three children.

Koegel’s body was found in the backyard under a blue tarpaulin on a paved area, Carroll said. She had been shot several times, and five shell casings were found near the body, Carroll said. During six hours of questioning, Pomeroy confessed to shooting Koegel, Carroll said.

During that interrogation, Pomeroy said he and Koegel got into a fight on the back porch, Carroll said. Pomeroy had inherited $3,500 and wanted to spend the money on cocaine, Carroll said. During the fight, Koegel pulled a nickel-plated revolver on Pomeroy, but he took it from her and shot her. Pomeroy then put a pillow beneath her head and shot her several more times, Carroll said.

On Oct. 25, Pomeroy was deemed competent to stand trial. No bail has been set.

Skyler Ray, 21

Shot May 29, died Sept. 28

Ray was shot in the head about 2:30 a.m. outside Saddle Ridge on South Broadway while he was trying to break up a fight.

An arrest warrant for Leslie Parson, 30, was issued on charges of assault and possession of a handgun by a felon on June 2. Parson was arrested June 8 in Versailles.

Parson pleaded not guilty on Aug. 8 to the original charges; no bail was set. The assault charge was upgraded to murder on Dec. 12. He pleaded not guilty again. The next status hearing is set for Jan. 20.

Demetrius Henry, 36

May 30 — open investigation

Henry was found with gunshot wounds on Village Drive at about 12 a.m., the coroner’s office said in a press release.

Henry died at 12:48 a.m. at UK hospital.

Douglas Jordan, 27

June 10 — open investigation

Jordan was shot in the back of the head on the 300 block of East Maxwell Street, according to Lexington police.

Jordan was walking with a woman at 2:49 a.m. when a man approached them from behind, Lt. Brad Ingram said.

Robert Warner, 36

June 25 — open investigation

Warner was shot about 2:45 a.m. in a parking lot off Eastland Parkway near Continental Square Apartments.

Warner was found with multiple gunshot wounds, lying on the ground near the Eastland Food Mart, according to Angel, the police spokeswoman. Warner was pronounced dead about 3:47 a.m., according to the coroner’s office.

He was a member of the Lexington Regulators motorcycle club.

Haley Bourgeois, 20

July 21

Police received a tip about a woman’s body behind the Brookhaven Apartments building on Malabu Drive on July 21. They found Bourgeois’ dismembered body in two commercial trash bins, Fayette County coroner Gary Ginn said.

Later that day, police charged Patrick Ryan Jones, 24, with murder, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse. According to court documents, police said a witness told them Jones had killed his former girlfriend with a wrench during an altercation. The witness also told police that Jones admitted to dismembering Bourgeois and putting her in the trash bins.

Jones and Bourgeois had filed emergency protection orders against each other in September 2015 and dropped their cases the next month, according to the Fayette Circuit Court records.

Jones has a status hearing scheduled for Jan. 13.

Stephanie Anne Mullins, 46

Aug. 8 — open investigation

Mullins was found shot to death at 7:01 a.m. at 1043 Cross Keys Road, behind an apartment building.

Mullins live in Lexington but not at that apartment complex, Angel said.

Joseph Dilger, 24

Sept. 4

Dilger was found in a burning car on Redd Road at Elkchester Road, in west Fayette County.

According to court documents, Jeremy Harris, 21, killed Dilger with a handgun, then “drove the victim and his vehicle to a remote location and burned the victim’s car and body in an attempt to cover up the crime.” Harris was indicted on charges of second-degree arson, tampering with evidence, abuse of a corpse and first-degree robbery.

Christie Hanley, 32, also was indicted on charges of arson, tampering with evidence, abuse of a corpse and first-degree robbery. Police said in court documents that Hanley had bought gasoline for the fire. “The victim’s body was burned to the point that it was unrecognizable.”

Justin Slone, 23, was indicted on charges of arson, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse in connection with the fire. Harris, Hanley and Slone pleaded not guilty. Bail for Harris and Hanley was set at $510,000, according to court documents. Slone’s bail was set at $6,000.

Victor Villagomez-Duarte, 24

Shot Sept. 5, died Sept. 7

Villagomez-Duarte was outside the Microtel Inn at 2240 Buena Vista Drive about 9 a.m. Sept. 5 when he was shot during a drug transaction, according to police. Villagomez-Duarte died at UK Hospital.

Destiny A. Huff, 22, of Nicholasville told police that she was with Villagomez-Duarte when he was shot, according to court documents. Huff told investigators that a passenger in a vehicle shot Villagomez-Duarte and that she could identify the driver.

A witness told police that the driver of the vehicle involved in the shooting had a “D” tattooed on his face, according to court documents. Through a photograph lineup, the driver was identified as Daniel J. Glasscock, 28. Huff and Glasscock were on probation for previous convictions. Huff and Glasscock were charged with murder and first-degree robbery.

Alonzo K. Ragland, 28, also was charged with murder and first-degree robbery. He was out of prison on parole at the time of the shooting, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections website. Ragland’s previous convictions included possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a controlled substance and receiving stolen property.

Maryiah Coleman, 22

Jakobe Coleman, unborn

Sept. 7 — open investigation

Coleman was eight months pregnant when she was shot to death outside the Matador North Apartments on Winburn Drive.

Coleman’s mother, Tamara Coleman, said her daughter was walking her dog when she was killed. Her unborn son, Jakobe, died at UK Hospital. Coleman was due to give birth Oct. 12.

On Sept. 20, Lexington police asked for help finding a man with dreadlocks and a cast on his arm. The man was not considered a suspect; other witnesses said they saw him run from the scene, police said. A $1,000 reward has been offered by Bluegrass Crime Stoppers in exchange for information that leads to solving Maryiah’s killing.

Hundreds of people come together to call for justice in the death of a 22-year-old woman who was eight months pregnant.

Nathaniel McNealy, 18

Oct. 1 — open investigation

McNealy was killed when shots were fired at a large party on Unity Drive just before 2 a.m. McNealy, of Louisville, suffered multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Fayette County coroner’s office.

The shooting happened during an altercation, police said. Unity Drive is near Red Mile racetrack. McNealy’s mother, Jennifer Russell-Page, said her son had just come to Lexington from Louisville to visit friends who attended UK.

Trinity Gay, 15

Oct. 16

Trinity was killed at 4:41 a.m. while hanging out with friends at Cook Out at 855 South Broadway.

Trinity was with Morgan Gaines, 16, and Alexa Garner, 17, who were inside a car listening to music and talking when shots were fired.

“My first instinct was to roll up the windows, lock the doors, duck down,” Morgan said. “It didn’t sound like bullets were passing my car. Somehow, the doors got unlocked and Trinity hops in behind me and she’s screaming, ‘I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot! Take me to the hospital!’”

While Morgan drove Trinity to St. Joseph’s Hospital, AlexaGarner got into the back seat to help keep Trinity awake. Trinity was transferred to UK Hospital, where she died from a gunshot wound to her neck.

Dvonta Middlebrooks, 21, Chazerae M. Taylor, 38, and D’markeo C. Taylor, 19, were initially charged with wanton endangerment. Middlebrooks also was charged with possession of a handgun by a felon. The Taylors are father and son. All three men pleaded not guilty to Fayette District Judge Bruce T. Bell. D’markeo and Chazerae Taylor’s bond was set at $5,000 each, and Middlebrooks’ was $12,500.

In mid-December, Chazerae Taylor was indicted on a charge of wanton murder and four charges of wanton endangerment.

Olympic runner and Lexington native Tyson Gay spoke about the city of Lexington, showed his appreciation and shared memories of his daughter Trinity, who was fatally shot in Lexington at age 15.

James Augustus Blair, 27

Oct. 16 — open investigation

Blair was dropped off at a hospital by a private vehicle about 2 a.m. with a gunshot wound suffered in downtown Lexington, police said in a news release.

Blair was transferred to UK Hospital, where he died.

Blair grew up in the Winburn community, where a vigil was held for him Oct. 19. His two sons, including Ja’Ceion, 11 months, attended.

David Fletcher Jones, 17

Nov. 18

David was shot about 5:30 p.m. in the basement of a house on Honey Jay Court, off Centre Parkway and near Tates Creek High School, police said.

Lt. Jackie Newman said the woman who lives at the house was upstairs when she heard a gunshot. When she went downstairs, she saw the teen with a wound to the head, Newman said.

The teen had been in the basement with the woman’s two sons, ages 23 and 13, and two other friends. All four ran before the woman came downstairs,, Newman said. All fourleft cellphones behind, but police didn’t find a gun.

A juvenile suspect was arrested Nov. 19 on a murder charge.

Angel Juarez, 14

Nov. 24

Angel was shot after he answered the door of his house on Henton Road in Lexington.

Police were called to the house at 10:50 p.m. on Thanksgiving; officers found Juarez with multiple wounds to his upper torso, Lt. David Biroschik said.

Kevin J. Garcia, 23, was arrested Nov. 25 in West Virginia on a murder charge, police said.

Nova Maria Hillman, 2

Shot Dec. 6 died Dec. 7

Marquis D. Thurman, 20, of Georgetown, and Adrian L. Dunn, 20, of Lexington, are accused of entering a house on Kenton Street about 11 p.m. and demanding money.

In the living room were Sierra Green, 20; Nova, her daughter; and Green’s 27-year-old boyfriend.

Multiple shots were fired. Nova and Green’s boyfriend were struck, police said.

Nova was taken to UK Hospital, where she died at 4:22 a.m., according to the Fayette County coroner.

Thurman and Dunn were charged with murder after police determined that “both men are responsible for shots being fired,” said Angel, the police spokeswoman.

De’Ontai Jarrell Bates, 25

Dec. 29

Bates was shot about 5:30 p.m. in the 700 block of Faulkner Avenue.

Bates was in a sport-utility vehicle with his mother’s boyfriend and another man they had picked up near Russell Cave Road, police Lt. Jackie Newman said.

Bates was found with a gunshot wound, police said. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

The preliminary investigation revealed that the man who was picked up shot Bates and then ran off. The only description of him is that he is in his 20s and wore a red toboggan hat and dark clothing.

Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso