CANTON, Ohio - An aspiring rapper who prosecutors say led one of the most notorious and violent street gangs in the northeastern Ohio city of Canton has avoided facing a murder charge in the shooting death of a teenager after agreeing to plead guilty to other charges.
In a tense and emotional court hearing on Friday, 20-year-old Lamuel Flowers pleaded guilty to complicity to felonious assault, participating in a criminal gang, and gun and gang specifications. In exchange, prosecutors dropped charges of murder and felonious assault.
Flowers cursed at the judge in the case after he was sentenced to 15 years in prison and the judge said the only way to keep the community safe was to lock flowers up "in a cage like an animal," according to the Canton Repository.
"As long as I'm judge in this court, there will be no early release if it's brought to my attention," Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione said.
When Flowers began cursing at him, Forchione ordered him to be taken away immediately.
"This is my courtroom, not yours," the judge said.
The charges against Flowers stemmed from the April 2012 killing of 17-year-old Anthony Moore Jr., who died after he was wounded in a shooting and left at a gas station. He was not a gang member, prosecutors said.
Flowers' attorney, Wayne Graham, said his client was not involved in the killing.
"Mr. Flowers has denied his involvement in those offenses," he said. "And the resolution that was reached (Friday) gave him the ability to maintain that position that he didn't kill (Moore)."
He acknowledged that Flowers is a gang member.
Prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett called Flowers "an important member in the gang world," and that "he's definitely viewed as a leader" of a gang called Shorb Blocc, which led to extra security both inside and outside of the courtroom for Friday's hearing.
Prosecutor Dennis Barr said that he's certain Flowers killed Moore, but struck the plea deal because some witnesses might not show up for a trial out of fear and a reluctance to testify. Another obstacle could be convincing a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Flowers was responsible for Moore's death, he said.
Judge Forchione said he hesitated to accept the plea agreement, but acknowledged some difficulties in trying the case and told Flowers that he believes "it's in the best interest of Stark County that you be lifted off the streets."
Moore's grandmother, Wanda McCollum-Dotson, spoke at the hearing and blamed Flowers for her grandson's death.
"Guns in the hands of children only result in tragedy," she said, then referred to the upcoming 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington and his "I Have a Dream" speech.
"What is your dream?" she asked Flowers. "Nobody dreams about burying their children, and nobody dreams about going to prison."
Flowers' mother, Angela Flowers, shouted outside the courtroom that a Canton officer involved in the case set her son up and that he didn't kill Moore.
Flowers was an aspiring rapper, filming high-quality videos posted on YouTube and viewed by thousands. Some videos show guns and reference gang life.
"Your 15 minutes of fame is over with as of today," Forchione told Flowers at the hearing.