Defendant changes plea in slaying

WARREN – Two sisters of teenage murder victim Zeboney Bess lashed out at Jamal Wright on Friday as the 20-year-old man pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the girl’s death. Wright was sentenced to 17 years behind bars.

Wright, with addresses on Bane Street S.W. in Warren and Glenwood in Akron, also pleaded guilty to having weapons under disability because of a prior felony conviction.

”He used to come over to the house and see Zeboney,” said Monica Davis, a sister of the victim. ”She never hurt anyone.”

”I hate him, and I don’t even know him,” said Zandra Bess, another sister.

The women got permission from the judge to place a cell phone on the judge’s bench so their mother, who was in Georgia, could hear the court proceeding.

Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge W. Wyatt McKay followed terms of a plea deal worked out by prosecutors and Wright’s defense attorneys, handing down 11 years for the manslaughter charge and consecutive three-year sentences on a firearm specification and the weapons under disability charge that stems from a Summit County conviction on a heroin charge.

”The sentence was as good as we could get considering the state of the evidence we had,” said assistant county prosecutor Chris Becker, explaining the reduction from a murder charge to the manslaughter charge.

”We had no confession, no DNA, one witness that could identify Wright, but we couldn’t find her, another witness who couldn’t pick him (Wright) out of a lineup, and another that heard Zeboney scream the name ‘Jamal’ as she was shot,” Becker said. ”Other than that, we had a shell casing.”

Becker said they developed several different theories for the shooting and he had no idea which one was the most accurate.

Wright had been held in lieu of $2 million bond and was due to be tried in McKay’s court May 20.

The defendant was accused in the July 14 shooting of Bess of 2520 Kenwood St. S.W., who was gunned down in the middle of the street less than a half-mile from her home. Wright, who was convicted as a juvenile for shooting a man when he was 16 years old, was arrested two months later.

Family members said Bess received threatening text messages from Wright, with whom she had a relationship. She was on her phone arguing with a caller, presumably Wright, when she was shot about 10 p.m., police said.

Police said the shots were fired out of a dark-colored sport utility vehicle that drove past her. She was left lying in the middle of Hamilton Street with a gunshot wound to the head, police reports stated.

She was taken to Trumbull Memorial Hospital and flown by helicopter to St. Elizabeth Health Center, Youngstown, where she died.

Zandra Bess also said she was unhappy with plea deal. ”I didn’t agree with it. He is a selfish, coward b—. I feel sorry for whoever birthed him and raised a monster like that,” she said.

”It just hurts every day. There’s nothing we or he can do to bring her back,” Davis said.