AKRON, Ohio — The case of two brothers accused in the death of 17-year-old Ethan Liming outside Akron's I Promise School has been in the jury's hands for several days.
As deliberations resumed Monday morning, the jury appeared back in the courtroom shortly after 10:30 a.m. as they indicted to the court they are having difficulty in reaching a verdict on some counts of the indictment.
"The process of discussion and deliberation in the jury room is necessarily slow and requires consideration and patience," the judge declared while addressing the jury.
The judge said each juror must make up their own mind when making their decision in the case.
“Each of you must decide the case for yourself, but you should do so only after a discussion and consideration of the case with your fellow jurors," the judge said. "Do not hesitate to change your opinion if you are convinced that it is wrong, however, you should not surrender honest conviction in order to be congenial or to reach a verdict solely because of the opinion of the other jurors.”
She added: “The court instructs you to return to the jury room and continue your deliberations. Consult with one another, consider each other’s views.”
You can watch that full moment in the video below:
21-year-old Deshawn Stafford Jr. and 20-year-old Tyler Stafford each face charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault, with Deshawn also facing an additional involuntary manslaughter count as well as a charge of aggravated assault. The pair and a third man allegedly got into a fight with Ethan Liming after Liming and a group of friends shot at them with a SplatRBall water pellet gun on a basketball court.
Explore the story below to see coverage of what's happened in the case so far...
Day four of the trial: Sept. 20
With both sides resting their cases, the judge called for a lunch break around 12:15 p.m. Closing arguments began around 1:15 p.m. and wrapped up nearly two hours later. The jury then decided to begin their deliberations Thursday morning.
Even before deliberations and closing arguments Wednesday, the defense motioned for an acquittal of all charges. They argued there was not enough evidence to send those charges to the jury.
They pointed to inconsistencies in the witness testimony, namely that some witnesses said it was another person who started the fight with Ethan.
“In order to find my client guilty, the jury would have to find beyond a reasonable doubt that my client caused the death of Ethan Liming. When we started out here maybe that was assumed but that is no longer a safe assumption,” said Deshawn’s attorney Jon Sinn.
Prosecutors pushed back and argued they had met their burden of proof. They pointed to Deshawn’s own testimony to detectives that he had approached Ethan and thrown the punch that knocked him out.
“Really to call it a fight, your honor, is insulting,” said Matt Kuhn, Assistant Summit County Prosecutor. “It was not a fight. It was just an attack. The evidence did show that Ethan was ill-prepared to fight anyone. He was playing with a toy.”
Judge Tammy O’Brien agreed there were “numerous factual issues” and “conflicting evidence related to some of those facts.”
But she denied the motion and added, “there is evidence that has been presented related to each of the elements of the case sufficient to send these charges to a jury.”
During closing arguments, defense attorneys argued Ethan came looking for trouble when he and his friends shot SplatRBall guns at the group playing basketball. They argued that the Staffords acted in self-defense and that witness testimony was inconsistent.
“When it comes to causation and when it comes to serious physical harm and the deadly force required, none of that’s been proven. All of the assumptions that we had early on kind of fell apart with the state’s case,” Sinn told the judge.
Prosecutors argued the Staffords knew they were not in danger before they confronted Ethan and that their response went well beyond the prank.
“Deshawn immediately upped the ante. He turned this thing that was a prank into a fist fight,” Kuhn told the jury. “Think about if those are in any world proportionate to the injuries that we saw.”
Watch video from day four of the trial:
Day three of the trial: Sept. 19
Jurors heard from Dr. Robert Shott, a forensic pathologist with the Summit County Medical Examiner's Office, who conducted the autopsy in the Liming case. He testified Ethan had multiple injuries on his face and body but not all contributed to his death. Shott testified Ethan died of a blunt force head injury.
Myachi Shadie testified he was with Ethan the night of June 2 to buy marijuana from him. He said they smoked a joint and then as they were driving they noticed people playing basketball on the courts outside the I Promise school.
Shadie said he, Ethan and two others were just being teenagers when they shot the SplatRBall guns at the group playing basketball.
Shadie said things escalated when a person he believed was Donovon Jones approached Ethan, threw a basketball at him and a fight broke out. Another friend Ephrem Stefanko also testified it was Donovon, but a third friend witnessed it was Deshawn who approached Ethan first. Detectives also said their investigation showed it was Deshawn.
Prosecutors showed video of an interview Deshawn Stafford had with detectives shortly after he was apprehended nine days after Ethan’s death. In the video Deshawn appears to admit to being the one to approach Ethan and being the one to throw the punch that knocked him out. In the words of Deshawn, Ethan "went to sleep."
The state called several more detectives to the witness stand Tuesday, resting its case around 4:20 p.m., at which time the judge dismissed the jury until tomorrow.
Watch video from day three of the trial:
Day two of the trial: Sept. 18
Jurors heard from a detective assigned to the case. Prosecutors also took them through surveillance video from the night of June 2, 2022 from “I Promise” school.
That video shows shows Deshawn and Tyler Stafford playing basketball with Donovon Jones. You see Ethan Liming’s car pull up. Two others get out of his car, run to the basketball court and shoot water gel balls at the players. They head back to the car seconds later.
As they get back into the car, you see who investigators say is Deshawn run to the vehicle and approach Ethan who has exited his car. A fight breaks out. Tyler joins in and then Jones. The fight moves out of the view of the camera and at some point, Ethan is knocked to the ground and his head hits the pavement.
“He hit him and his whole body locked up and froze and he hit the ground,” one of Ethan’s friends testified.
“From where I’m standing it’s just like a ball of people and then Ethan gets, like, knocked out,” said Ephrem Stefanko, who has known Ethan since sixth grade. “And then he’s on the ground and they’re like stomping and kicking.”
The friends testified Jones and the Stafford’s harassed them, tried to fight them and threatened them before Ethan’s friends decided to run from the scene.
Through his tears, Stefanko described learning of Ethan’s death.
“My dad called my mom and said Ethan died. And I kind of knew from my dad’s reaction what happened. So, I dropped to the floor and didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Liming died following the altercation, with an autopsy report ruling he hit his head on the asphalt. The Staffords and their acquaintance Donovon Jones were arrested in June of 2022 following a weeklong manhunt, but while they were initially charged with murder, a grand jury later significantly reduced the homicide charges and went on to only charge Edwards with assault. The latter subsequently pleaded no contest and avoided jail time.
Watch video from day two of the trial:
Day one of the trial: Sept. 15
During the first day of the trial on Friday, acknowledged Liming made a "poor choice" when he and his friends chose to fire the water pellets. However, they believe the actions of the Stafford brothers went much too far, even if they didn't mean to kill Ethan when they fought him.
"Because of a toy gun, Ethan Liming died right there on the parking lot," Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Jennie Shuki said in her opening statement.
By contrast, lawyers for the defense claimed the brothers were merely acting in self defense, and that the situation simply ended in tragedy.
"Actions have consequences, and when you attack folks, they may defend themselves," Deshawn Stafford Jr.'s attorney Jon Sinn said.
Watch video from day one of the trial: