Closing arguments begin in trial for man charged in 2019 death of Youngstown mother

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Police say 23-year-old Crystal Hernandez was killed because of a feud her boyfriend had with Larenz Rhodes and the others charged in her death

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Closing arguments are underway Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for one of seven men accused in the death of a Youngstown woman.

Larenz Rhodes, 19, is charged with aggravated murder in the January 24, 2019 shooting death of 23-year-old Crystal Hernandez. She was shot to death in her east side apartment on McBride Street.

Rhodes also faces a charge of felonious assault for shooting at Smith while he was in his car earlier that day.

A jury was picked last Monday before Judge Anthony Donofrio and testimony began Tuesday.

Police say Hernandez was killed because of a feud her boyfriend, 21-year-old Gabriel Smith, had with Rhodes and the others charged in her death.

Police say earlier in the day on January 24, 2019, Smith and another man — Lavante Perry — were involved in a series of shootings with the group, including one that left Rhodes hurt.

The group then decided to shoot up Smith’s apartment for revenge, but he wasn’t there.

In his closing argument, Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Trapp told the jury Rhodes drove to the crime scene in a stolen car with two other defendants and shot up the back and front of Smith’s apartment with an AK-47.

Smith wasn’t there at the time.

When police found Hernandez, her 2-year-old son, whom Smith is the father of, was sleeping on her chest. He wasn’t hurt.

On Monday, prosecutors said they aren’t sure how the child got onto her chest.

The car was seen on video several times at the earlier shooting and at the apartment complex where Hernandez was killed, Tripp said. His DNA was found in the car when police recovered it, Trapp said.

Although four different weapons were fired, Trapp said it was an AK-47 round that killed Hernandez. Some of the co-defendants also testified for the prosecution during the trial, and they backed up the police version of events, Trapp said.

“He had the gun (AK-47) before and he had it after,” Trapp said of testimony by witnesses about Rhodes’ role in the shooting.

Of the three co-defendants who testified, two are receiving sentences of 20 years and the other seven years, Trapp said, which are not lenient sentences.

Police found 53 shell casings at the scene and there were more rounds fired by the AK-47 than any of the other guns, Trapp said.

“Whoever was handling that gun went berserk,” Trapp said.

Defense attorney Frank Cassese told the jury that a video prosecutors played Friday of Rhodes’ interview with detectives ,where Rhodes was laughing, was just a way to get jurors upset at his client. It proves they have no case, Cassese said.

“They showed that video to play on your emotions,” Cassese said. “That video has absolutely zero evidentiary value. They want to take your eye off the ball and attack his character.”

Cassese said he admitted his client’s lack of empathy was not a good look, but he added that jurors should ask themselves what kind of upbringing he has had to make him that way.

Cassese said his client has a seventh grade education and can’t read and for a time he was homeless.

Cassese also said six of the witnesses called by the state were “interested witnesses” who had their own interests to look out for, including the three co-defendants who testified for the prosecution.

Cassese said the judge will instruct jurors that they can weigh the testimony of co-defendants with suspicion.

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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