YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A detective testified Tuesday in municipal court that a suspect in an unsolved 2016 homicide was arrested after she began an investigation into a series of unsolved sexual assaults on the East Side.
Judge Renee DiSalvo bound over to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court a charge of complicity to commit aggravated murder against Ranee Fitzgerald, 23, following an hour-long preliminary hearing Tuesday.
Fitzgerald is charged for her role in the March 16, 2016, shooting death of Omar Croom, 22, who was found dead about 1:30 a.m. next to an SUV on Oak Street Extension.
Detective Sgt. Jessica Shields, head of the police department’s Special Victims Unit, testified that she came across Fitzgerald while investigating a series of unsolved sexual assaults on the East Side where the suspect in those assaults was also a person of interest in Croom’s death.
Shields said she examined Fitzgerald’s phone records and discovered that the phone she had at the time showed that she was in the same location as Croom. Phone records were also used to track Croom’s movements, Shields testified.
Shields also testified that Croom had arranged over the social media app Kik to meet Fitzgerald for sex. They arranged for Croom to pick her up at the East Side Apartments, Shields said.
Shields said the phone records show that both were together and that Fitzgerald was on her phone with Croom several times in the hours leading up to his death. Shields said there were 19 calls or texts between the two on March 15 and 16, 2016, including a last text at 1:19 a.m.
“By 1:26 a.m., Omar Croom was dead,” Shields testified.
Fitzgerald refused to speak to Shields before she was arrested last month, Shields testified. She testified Fitzgerald told her after she was arrested that her phone was stolen when Croom was murdered and that she was at home when Croom was murdered.
The phone Fitzgerald was using belonged to her mother, and there is a record of 96 calls or texts between that phone and another phone her mother was using on March 15 and 16, 2016, Shields testified. Shields also testified that Fitzgerald’s mother reported her daughter missing on March 12, 2016, to Austintown police, where they lived at the time, and did not report that she returned home until March 17, 2016.
Defense attorney Michael Kivlighan objected to much of the testimony involving phone or social media records, saying that under the rules of evidence, those records have to be authenticated by someone before they can be testified to in court.
Judge DiSalvo said evidence rules are different in preliminary hearings and she said she was allowing the records to be used because Shields was showing how she was able to get evidence to charge Fitzgerald. However, Judge DiSalvo also cautioned City Prosecutor Kathy Thompson to ask direct questions to Shields, so she would not have to rely on the records as much.
Kivlighan told Judge DiSalvo during a brief closing argument that prosecutors presented no evidence showing his client killed Croom or helped someone kill him. Kivlighan said prosecutors also never proved the phone Fitzgerald was using was ever in her possession.
“There was no evidence brought forward showing that she [Fitzgerald] was ever involved in the death of Omar Croom,” Kivlighan said.
Fitzgerald remains in the Mahoning County jail in lieu of $1 million bond.