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By BOB WHITE
ELIZABETHTOWN — In her closing statement, Shelia Kyle-Reno, attorney for Ray’Mon “Kee” Rogers, said on April 21, 2007, the day 17-year-old Marcus Pratt died, three teens were left standing on a cliff’s edge with the “specter of evil” standing behind them.
“One died, one was beaten and the other has been in fear for his existence ever since.” Kyle-Reno said Monday morning.
With a jury’s guilty-on-all-counts verdict against her client, that fear of existence shifted Monday to a life lost to prison.
Kyle-Reno’s “specter of evil” is James Benjamin “J.B.” Bryant, a 27-year-old accused with Rogers of complicity to murder, two counts of complicity to robbery and complicity to attempted murder.
The commonwealth is seeking life without parole for the 19-year-old Rogers. A minimum sentence for complicity to murder is 20 years.
Sentencing was postponed Monday afternoon because Rogers’ mother, a witness for the sentencing phase of the trial, was hospitalized Sunday night with problems stemming from pancreatic cancer.
Her sister, Tina Rogers, said the teen’s mom likely will give up on her fight against the disease after hearing the verdict against her son.
There was no physical evidence presented during the two-week trial tying Rogers to Pratt’s shooting death.
Only testimony from James Hollister – a then-16-year-old who survived a near-death beating the same night – tied Rogers to Pratt’s death.
Hollister testified that, while being beaten by Bryant, he witnessed Rogers shooting “toward” Pratt in the predawn hours of April 21, 2007, as Pratt ran from the car in which they’d ridden to Elizabethtown.
Testimony of Medical Examiner Barbara Weakley-Jones was that Pratt died as a result of a point-blank headshot. He also suffered a shot to the chest and hand.
The teens allegedly were asleep, drunk on codeine cough syrup and liquor, when Bryant drove them to Elizabethtown’s Southend Commerce Park to rob them of about $800. The robbery turned deadly when the .45 caliber came into play.
Rogers, who took the stand Friday, described Pratt as his friend and pointed the finger at Bryant as the culprit.
Rogers said after hearing gunshots and Hollister scream “KeeKee” for help, he “played opossum” — feigning sleep to avoid Bryant’s wrath.
He said he was arrested by police in Louisville later that day. Rogers said he had planned to turn himself in to EPD that day.
Rogers said he’d told Bryant to “man up” and turn himself in for the murder of “his friend.”
“The jury didn’t take into consideration there was no physical evidence against him,” Rogers’ aunt, Shantel Henry, said. “It’s like they’re trying to make an example of him, when they should be making an example out of Bryant.”
Of the 11 people charged in connection to killings in 2007, Rogers is the first to be convicted on a charge of murder.
As a result of the conviction, he’ll receive no less than a 20-year sentence. The commonwealth chose not to pursue the death penalty against Rogers.
Pratt’s family said they’re confident Rogers was involved in the crime.
“It was a set up,” Sheritta Pratt-Foree, Pratt’s mother, said. “These teenagers, 14-to-17 are too quick to pick up a gun.” She said it was senseless to kill someone just to rob them of a few hundred dollars.
She also said it was sad for Rogers’ loved ones who now lose their relative to prison, but said the loss she lives with is eternal.
“I’ll never get him back,” Pratt-Foree said. “It’s just hard.”
Pratt fathered two children. Mariah and Elijah Pratt are only 1 and 2 years old, Pratt-Foree said.
She said the grandchildren are a blessing that kept her from becoming suicidal after her son’s murder, but said having to explain Pratt’s violent death to children is near impossible.
“What are you supposed to tell children one and two-years-old when they ask where Daddy’s at?” Pratt-Foree said. “What do you tell a kid?”
Rogers’ family is left with difficult questions as well.
“I don’t know what those people (jurors) heard,” Tina Rogers said. “I thought they were supposed to look at the evidence.”
Chris McCrary, Rogers’ co-counsel, said before the verdict was read that he was clueless as to which way the jury was heading. But he said he knew his client was innocent.
“He’s a good kid that got mixed up with the wrong people,” McCrary said. “His story never changed.”
Kyle-Reno and others who talked to Hollister said the key witness’ story of events leading up to Pratt’s death changed five times during the past 17 months.
Hollister was charged in February in connection to the gang rape of a young girl in Clark County, Ind. He is still jailed on charges relating to that crime.
Jurors were not told of the pending charges.
Rogers’ relatives said Hollister’s testimony shows he’s either afraid to testify against Bryant or reflects a deal made with prosecutors to reduce a sentence related to his alleged involvement in the Indiana case. There is no proof of such a deal.
Bryant is scheduled to go to trial in November. He faces the same charges for which Rogers was convicted.
Rogers may appeal his conviction.
Bob White can be reached at (270) 505-1750.