November 24, 2014

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Five from gang crackdown plead guilty

ELYRIA – Five men arrested during a gang crackdown by Lorain police last year entered guilty pleas to numerous charges Friday in Lorain County Common Pleas Court.

Two of the men, Randy Atkinson, 30, and Jason Fowler, originally had been facing murder charges for their roles in the Oct. 18, 2009, death Eric Witcher following a bar fight at the Luna Del Mar bar on East 28th Street in Lorain.

Prosecutors dropped the murder charges against Atkinson and Fowler in exchange for pleas to involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault and aggravated riot in connection with Witcher’s death. Atkinson also entered a guilty plea to participating in a criminal gang.

Witcher died of a heart attack, but his death was ruled a homicide because an autopsy determined the heart attack was brought on by the beating he was subjected to.

Cameron Seymore, who also originally faced a murder charge in the case, was sentenced last year to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated riot.

Also pleading guilty Friday were Evan Williams, 19, Brandon Johnson, 24, and Maurice Palmer, 30.

Williams pleaded guilty to attempted participation in a criminal gang and drug trafficking charges.

Johnson pleaded guilty to participating in a criminal gang, conspiracy, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, burglary and numerous drug offenses.

Palmer pleaded guilty to falsification, felonious assault, attempted participation in a criminal gang, and drug and weapons charges.

None of those who took plea deals Friday have been sentenced yet.

Two other men, Billy Gilbert and Lantous Thorpe, have pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges stemming from Witcher’s death.

Lorain police have credited the crackdown and subsequent anti-gang efforts with reducing crime in the city.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.