YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Two men that prosecutors called enforcers of a local drug trafficking ring were sentenced Wednesday in the murders of four people in Youngstown.
Hakeem Henderson was sentenced to 36 years to life, and Michael Austin was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Henderson was found guilty of aggravated murder in the deaths of Adam Christian and Raymond Hayes in Youngstown. The two were shot to death and their bodies found just days apart in November 2011. He was also found guilty of a pattern of corrupt activity.
Austin was also guilty of aggravated murder in the deaths of Christian and Hayes, along with the deaths of Ryan Slade and Keara McCullough. Police found Slade and McCullough shot to death in a car in September 2012. At the time, police said Slade was a low-level marijuana dealer, but McCullough was a “completely innocent victim” who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
“These two defendants are truly the worst defendants I’ve ever encountered,” said Assistant Mahoning County Prosecutor Marty Desmond.
One by one, family members of Michael Austin’s and Hakeem Henderson’s victims stood before the judge Wednesday afternoon, asking for justice for their loved ones’ lives.
“All my life, all I had was him. We were very close,” said Sierra Hayes, the victim’s cousin.
“Ramel doesn’t get his, his chances are up, he’s gone,” said Hayes’ uncle, Marvin, who couldn’t finish and had to turn and walk away.
The victim’s grandmother said she won’t live her life in anger.
“I will not allow them to take up space in my mind by not forgiving them. Their hands is in the hands of God,” Sally Cox said.
Although prosecutors stressed the crimes deserve back-to-back life sentences, Austin argued that his rights had been violated during the trial. He said the jury that heard the case was older and mostly white, and not of his peers.
“They don’t ever see anyone of my skin complexion drive through their neighborhood on a daily basis. Y’all was lookin’ for bad guys. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s just not us,” he said.
Judge Jack Durkin said he has no doubt that if Austin was released, he would pick up where he left off.
“Our society cannot, and our community will not, tolerate such brutal conduct,” Durkin said. “It’s my obligation to ensure that you cannot hurt and that you will not hurt anyone else.”
Others who investigators say are part of the drug trafficking ring are set for trial this summer.