December 19, 2014

Elyria
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Judges weigh evidence in Gas USA fatal robbery

Elyria Detective Peter Hans Van Wormer assembles the AK-47 rifle used by Vincent Jackson to kill Qiana Walton in 2008 as judges John Miraldi, left, James Miraldi, center, and Mark Betleski watch Tuesday at the Lorain County Justice Center. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Elyria Detective Peter Hans Van Wormer assembles the AK-47 rifle used by Vincent Jackson to kill Qiana Walton in 2008 as judges John Miraldi, left, James Miraldi, center, and Mark Betleski watch Tuesday at the Lorain County Justice Center. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — Qiana Walton’s life was snuffed out by a single gunshot fired by Vincent Jackson Jr. during a 2008 robbery at Gas USA, an event captured on the Middle Avenue store’s surveillance system.

The graphic video was played Tuesday for the three-judge panel that must decide whether to accept Jackson’s guilty plea to aggravated murder and whether prosecutors have produced enough evidence to justify a death sentence.

Vincent Jackson Jr. sits with attorney J. Anthony Rich as evidence is presented in his trial for killing Qiana Jackson in 2008.

Vincent Jackson Jr. sits with attorney J. Anthony Rich as evidence is presented in his trial for killing Qiana Jackson in 2008.

Lorain County Common Pleas judges James Miraldi, John Miraldi and Mark Betleski already have accepted the 33-year-old Jackson’s guilty pleas to murder, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, tampering with evidence and having weapons under disability.

The video starts with Walton returning to the gas station about 12:15 a.m. June 14, 2008, just moments after she had finished closing up the store for the night and clocking out. Her ride that night was running late.

Walton was followed into the store by Jackson, who was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle. He demanded that she turn off the alarm system, something she did without apparent argument.

Jackson then demanded that Walton give him money. She filled a black plastic bag with an estimated $12,000.

Even as Walton talked with him, Jackson can be seen in the video stepping back and raising the rifle. He then makes an adjustment and fires.

The loud crack of the gunshot is followed by Walton immediately dropping to the floor in the back office, killed by a bullet that blasted through her skull and went through cartons of cigarettes stacked behind her before it punched into a wall.

Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo said killing Walton wasn’t enough for Jackson.

“He shot her, called her a ‘bitch’ and fled,” he said during his closing argument.

Photo evidence of the AK-47 used to kill Qiana Walton is shown during Vincent Jackson Jr.'s trial.

Photo evidence of the AK-47 used to kill Qiana Walton is shown during Vincent Jackson Jr.’s trial.

Police would later find the still-loaded gun “poorly covered with some vegetation” behind a nearby house, Elyria police Detective Hans Van Wormer testified. Officers also found ammunition for the AK-47 at the house where Jackson was living.

Walton’s family, who sat in the courtroom throughout the one-day trial, left each time prosecutors played the video.

Calling the prosecution’s case “speculation and conjecture,” defense attorney J. Anthony Rich argued that prosecutors failed to justify finding Jackson guilty of the capital specifications.

“What happened to her was ugly, absolutely terrible, but not an aggravating circumstance,” Rich said.

Prosecutors also had video of Walton waiting on Jackson at the gas station 49 hours before she was killed. Cillo and Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Dezort both said that not only was Jackson a customer of the store, but his sister, Aja Jackson, also worked there.

Aja Jackson testified that her brother had moved to Elyria only about two weeks before the killing and was staying at her family’s nearby home on West Avenue. Authorities in Illinois have said Jackson had been released from prison a month earlier after serving an eight-year prison sentence there for shooting a man in the head during an argument. The victim in that shooting survived.

Callie Wood, the friend who was supposed to pick up Walton that night, said she overslept and then hurried to the store. Walton called her while she was on her way, she said.

When she got to the gas station, Wood said she had her teenage son try the door, but when it was unlocked she told her children to remain in the car and entered the store alone.

“I looked behind the cash register and saw her out of the corner of my eye laying on the floor,” Wood said before breaking down in tears and temporarily bringing the proceedings to a halt.

Wood said she called police and station owner John Harb, who would later pull up the surveillance video for police.

Elyria Detective Peter Hans Van holds the shell casing from the AK-47 rifle.

Elyria Detective Peter Hans Van holds the shell casing from the AK-47 rifle.

Naquana “Ziggy” Bell, a Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer who was working as a Gas USA cashier in 2008, testified that she too knew Jackson from coming into the store. She recalled that Jackson had only recently come into the store and showed off a new tattoo of his girlfriend’s name on his neck.

She said after she learned about the shooting, she went up to the store that night and asked police to let her review the security footage to see if she could recognize who had killed Walton.

“I saw the video and I knew it was him,” Bell said.

Once they identified Jackson, police quickly tracked him to his sister’s house. Aja Jackson said that when police arrived, her brother was in the attic with two of her children, one of whom was only 4 months old.

She said both she and police tried to convince her brother to come out, but he never replied. After about four hours, police have said, Jackson surrendered.

Elyria police Detective Larry Barbee testified when he questioned Jackson about Walton’s slaying, Jackson denied that there was a surveillance system in place. When Barbee showed him a still photo from the video, he said Jackson denied it was him.

“(He said) ‘a lot of people look like me,’” Barbee said.

Jackson’s case has stretched on for years because of the complexity of death penalty cases, a stroke he suffered while in the Lorain County Jail in 2012 and a legal fight earlier this year over whether county Common Pleas Judge James Burge should serve on the panel. Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor ruled last month that because Burge has already taken himself all of Cillo’s cases, he couldn’t serve on the panel.

A verdict could come as soon as today.

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