AKRON, Ohio — The trial for two brothers accused of killing a 17-year-old boy outside Akron's I Promise School last year started on Friday.
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.
“Someone jumping out and shooting machine guns at you. And everybody’s sacred and everybody runs and it’s hilarious. Except these guys don’t live in a neighborhood where that’s so funny,” defense attorney Jon Sinn said in his opening argument.
Prosecutors called it a toy gun, “One that you can buy at the store for your kids.”
They acknowledged it was a poor choice to use the toy guns. But they argued it was Deshawn who chose to confront Ethan. He and Tyler chose to assault him, they said. And Deshawn ultimately threw the punch that knocked him down.
“But oh, my lord, what an outcome. 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.
The defense pushed back, arguing the Stafford’s acted out of self-defense. That the fight started only after Ethan fired several more water bead rounds at Deshawn's head.
“Actions have consequences and when you attack folks, they may defend themselves,” Sinn said.
Shuki said even after Ethan was knocked to the ground, they continued to beat him, interfering when Ethan’s friends attempted to get him into the car.
“I submit to you, however, that when you determine the force used in this case against Ethan, you have to look at whether it was appropriate proportionate to the threat—the threat that supposedly Ethan and his friends posed to the defendants,” Shuki said.
She acknowledged the Stafford’s did not kill Ethan “knowingly. Not, ‘I'm going to kill somebody.’ That's not why we're here. But you are responsible for your actions.”
Liming died following the altercation, with an autopsy report ruling he hit his head on the asphalt. The Staffords and their acquaintance Donovon Edwards 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.
You can watch Friday's court proceedings below.
.The Staffords have been out on bond since their grand jury indictment, and Deshawn's attorney Jon Sinn claimed at the time that his client acted in self defense after he and the two others were "assaulted" and hit with "hundreds and hundreds" of frozen liquid rounds from the SplatRBall guns.
"It was a fight amongst boys, Ethan got hit, he did some hitting and he got hit, and he hit the ground and the ground did all the damage here," Sinn said.
Sinn also believed the autopsy report — which did note other blunt-force injuries on Liming's body — was not "consistent with somebody who's being stopped and beaten violently and brutally while he's on the ground." Following the lessening of the charges, Liming family attorney Mike Callahan told 3News Ethan's father was "very disheartened with the system. I can't imagine a parent in his position being anything but."