Man found guilty in death of Youngstown mother

Local News

Prosecutors said ballistic evidence showed that the young mother was killed by an AK-47 round

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A jury in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court has found 19-year-old Larenz Rhodes guilty of murder for the Jan. 24, 2019 shooting death of Crystal Hernandez, 23, in her McBride Street apartment on the East Side.

The jury also found Rhodes guilty of felonious assault for shooting at Hernandez’s boyfriend, Gabriel Smith, earlier that same day, as well as improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle.

Rhodes was also found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.

Hernandez’s mother, Nivea Ramos, wept and held her head in her hands as the verdicts were read.

Crystal Hernandez, Youngstown shooting victim
Crystal Hernandez

Ramos hugged both prosecutors and thanked them through tears. She said the verdicts bring some closure but added there are other defendants still to be tried.

“If you play with guns you will be locked up,” she said outside the courtroom.

Hernandez’s uncle, Christian Ortiz, added: “She was an innocent victim.”

Prosecutors said Hernandez was killed because of a feud between Smith and several other men. Earlier in the day, Smith and a friend took part in a shooting that wounded Rhodes and another man. Rhodes and the others went to shoot up Smith’s apartment for revenge, but he wasn’t there., and Hernandez was killed instead.

Police found Hernandez’s 2-year-old son on her chest. Hernandez was dead from a gunshot wound to the face. The child was not harmed.

The verdicts were rendered just before 5:30 p.m. Tuesday after jurors deliberated all day in the courtroom of Judge Anthony Donofrio.

Deliberations lasted about four hours on Monday. Testimony began Aug. 18.

Rhodes was one of seven people charged in the death of Hernandez. Three co-defendants testified for the prosecution during the trial.

Defense attorney Frank Cassese said jurors should not rely on their testimony because they received lesser sentences to cooperate. Prosecutors, however, said video evidence placed Rhodes at the crime scene and his DNA was found on the steering wheel of one of the cars used in the shooting.

Another witness testified Rhodes drove to the apartment, and the same witness said they saw Rhodes with an AK-47 when he ran back to the car when the shooting was over.

Prosecutors said ballistic evidence showed that Hernandez was killed by an AK-47 round.

All told, prosecutors said police found 53 shell casings from four different weapons at the scene. Twenty-five of those casings were from an AK-47.

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