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Lawyer: childhood friend framed man charged in Cleveland road-rage shooting that hurt young boy

August 8, 2018

Lawyer: childhood friend framed man charged in Cleveland road-rage shooting that hurt young boy

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Cleveland man charged in a road-rage shooting that injured a 4-year-old boy was framed by his childhood friend and co-defendant, the man’s lawyer told a jury.

No physical evidence tied 22-year-old Leon Edwards to the August 2017 shooting on the Shoreway, defense attorney Angelo Lonardo said in opening statements delivered in Edwards’s trial.

Instead, police and prosecutors identified Edwards based largely on statements that Edwards’s childhood friend Jonathan Smith made after three witnesses told police Smith was involved, Lonardo said.

Smith, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to reduced charges in exchange for his promise to testify against Edwards, also contacted the boy’s mother after the shooting and convinced her that Edwards was the gunman, Lonardo said.

“There is no case against my client without Jonathan Smith,” Lonardo said.

Edwards faces decades behind bars if he is convicted of multiple counts of attempted murder, felonious assault and drive-by shooting charges.

The shooting happened about midnight Aug. 6, 2017, less than two weeks after the boy’s fourth birthday, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Ryan Bokoch told jurors.

The boy’s mother picked him and his sister up from their grandmother’s apartment in the Lakeview Terraces complex in Ohio City after she got off work. As she made her way toward the Shoreway to drive back to her home on the East Side, she was blocked in by a group of people talking to someone in white Pontiac sedan stopped in the road.

She waited for a few minutes and started honking at the car to move. It never did, so she laid on the horn before she maneuvered around the car, Bokoch said.

The car followed her onto the Shoreway and chased after her. Somewhere between Dead Man’s Curve and East 55th Street, bullets pierced the woman’s car.

She got off the Shoreway and realized that one of the bullets had struck her son in the head.

Police found shattered glass and blood droplets on the back seat beside the boy’s booster seat. Police evidence photographs showed the boy’s plastic Spider-Man mask lay next to the booster seat.

Investigators searched the highway but found only one bullet casing, and they are not even sure if it’s connected to the boy’s shooting, Bokoch said. 

Investigators tracked down three witnesses who said that a man who went by “John John” -- who was later identified as Smith -- drove the Pontiac and was the gunman, according to court records.

Smith was on probation at the time of the shooting after he pleaded guilty to his involvement in a plot to kill a 16-year-old boy who was cooperating with police in felonious assault investigation, according to court records.

When police arrested him, he denied any involvement at first, Bokoch said. He eventually admitted that he was in the car, but that Edwards was the man behind the wheel and the gun.

Smith is not the only person who pins the shooting on Edwards though.

The boy’s mother initially told a police detective at the hospital as her son awaited emergency surgery that she didn’t see the either of the men in the car.

Bokoch said she ended the interview by saying, “I don’t want to talk, I just want to pray.” 

Two days later, on Aug. 8, 2017, the mother came to the police station and picked Edwards’s photograph out of a lineup of suspects, and said she was certain Edwards was was the shooter, Bokoch said.

Lonardo told jurors that Smith called the mother the day after the shooting and told her that Edwards was the gunman. The mother saw a photograph of Edwards before she went to the station and picked out his photograph, Lonardo said.

At that point, the mother became an unwitting accomplice in Smith’s frame job, he said.

“This case screams doubt based on reason and common sense,” Lonardo said.

To comment on this story, please visit Wednesday’s crime and courts comments page.

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