KENTLAND — After backing out of a plea deal, just moments before a sentencing hearing, in which he would have served between 15-19 years in prison, Demiah L. Wright aka “D”, 36 of Kankakee, was found guilty of four felony counts including attempted murder and sentenced to 45 years in prison with three of those years being suspended.
In a bench trial heard by Newton County Superior Court Judge Daniel Molter March 4, Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Drinski argued that Wright was the lone shooter for the Nov. 11, 2018 incident at Ten Oaks Mobile Home Park in Lincoln Township that left a man in critical condition.
“The victim was shot in the head and won’t be able to live a normal life,” said Drinski. “No one in this trial was without sin, but when you look at the common denominator from every witness the defendant had a gun and fired the gun. The defendant had the intent and motive. He along with three others came to Indiana (from Hopkins Park) to retrieve his stolen property (drugs) and enact vengeance. This was not a random act. The victim (Jeffery Fraze Jr.) did testify that he looked out at his driver’s side mirror and saw Mr. Wright firing at him.”
Wright’s defense team, which included attorneys Jacob Ahler and Brooke Scheurich, argued that this case was filled with witnesses who were not credible, on drugs and each testified to a different account of the incident.
“There is no doubt in this case we are not dealing with credible witnesses,” argued Ahler. “I hope the court will evaluate the evidence and see that there is reasonable doubt that the defendant did what he is accused of doing. Some witnesses testified to hearing multiple shooters, the victim himself testified that he didn’t smoke crack that night but the two people in the car with him testified that they all did. Two co-defendants said in court that their plea deal was based on them testifying today. The court should give very little weight to that. I am sympathetic to Mr. Fraze and his injuries but that doesn’t relieve the state from meeting its burden of proof in this case.”
According to testimony from Fraze himself, he picked up Mathew Janda and Lexi Johnson on Feb. 17 to go to Hopkins Park. Before he left, he was approached by Meredith Irwin, who he was in a relationship with at the time. Fraze said that Irwin asked him to break into a car and get a pill bottle of drugs, which he did. He testified that the car belonged to “D” (Wright).
Fraze told the court that he headed to Ten Oaks to drop off Janda and Johnson in the early morning hours of Feb. 18 and that is when a vehicle pulled up with three people getting out, Wright, Alomandos T. Hawkins aka “Manny”, and Milton J. Sykes Jr. aka “BD”.
“I didn’t see who fired first, but as I drove away I saw ‘D” shooting at me when I looked out my driver’s side mirror,” said Fraze Jr.
Fraze Jr. was then struck in the head with a bullet and crashed into a mobile home at Ten Oaks.
“The hospital didn’t give me a chance to survive,” added Fraze Jr., “The bullet is still lodged in my brain and my legs feel like they weigh 800 pounds.”
Under cross-examination by Ahler, Fraze Jr., testified that he used heroin earlier in the day and that he believes there was just one shooter despite telling police he thought all three guys had fired at him at the time.
Janda and Johnson both testified that they were hanging out Fraze Jr. to celebrate a birthday and that they all three smoked crack in Fraze’s vehicle shortly before the three guys from Hopkins Park found them.
Janda also testified that he thought he heard gunshots coming from both sides of the truck.
Johnson would testify that after the crash, the three suspects fired some more as they were driving by to leave the trailer park. However, she was the only witness to testify to that.
Sykes, a co-defendant, testified that he, Wright, and Hawkins along with Irwin were going to Indiana to find Fraze to locate some stolen property. After they approached his vehicle he heard shots and hit the ground but he did not see anyone holding a gun. However, during a May 31, 2019 deposition, Sykes said that when Fraze started to pull out in his truck, Wright just started shooting.
“I can’t remember saying that but I possibly did,” said Sykes in court.
Hawkins, the other co-defendant, proved to be a key witness in the case, as he did testify saying saw Wright firing a lot of shots as the truck drove away.
Under cross-examination, Hawkins testified that he was initially charged with all the same counts as Wright, but had received a plea offer that was contingent on him testifying.
Irwin testified that she didn’t see the shooting as she never got out of the vehicle and ducked as soon as she heard shots. However, she did testify that she heard Wright say ‘ turn around, I got this gun and I don’t want to do anything stupid,’ but she never actually saw a gun.
Another key witness in the trial was Scott Owens of the Indiana State Police laboratory. He testified that all 11 cartridge cases that were found on the scene were identified as being fired from the same gun, as well as two bullets that were recovered. Another bullet that was found couldn’t be identified as being fired out of that gun but couldn’t be ruled out either.
The defense didn’t call any witnesses during the trial, and Judge Molter didn’t take long to make his ruling.
“The state has met its burden and the court is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty on all counts,” said Molter. “The evidence points that you (Wright) are the shooter.”
Sentencing took place on March 9 with the defendant admitting to being a habitual offender with two prior felony convictions. Drinski dismissed count two which was possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, which would have been in conflict with the sentencing enhancement.
Before sentencing, the victim’s father spoke along with the defendant’s mother.
Molter sentenced Wright to 35 years in prison with a sentencing enhancement of 10 years with three years suspended. Drinski says Wright will have to serve 75 percent of that sentence. The maximum Wright could have received was 60 years.
“I am thankful for the great support and working relationship with the Kankakee Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group along with the Kankakee County State’s Attorney Kim Rowe,” said Drinski.