Nearly six years ago, a University of North Florida information technology engineer's death was ordered from a jail cell to prevent him from testifying in a burglary case.
Jecorian Leon McCray orchestrated the hit on 48-year-old Jonathan "Joe" Brenton on Sept. 21, 2016, but was spared the death penalty by the Jacksonville jury that convicted him Monday.
Found guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and tampering with a witness, the 28-year-old McCray will be sentenced to mandatory life in prison, according to the State Attorney's Office.
The convoluted case came to light when officers were called to Brenton's home on V C Johnson Road following reports that someone was trying to break in. Investigators said a struggle apparently broke out when he answered the door and was shot.
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Investigators soon learned that Brenton and his wife were expected to testify in the trial of their daughter's acquaintance, McCray, charged with his juvenile stepbrother with breaking into their home two years earlier.
Co-defendant Dakarai Keone Maxwell, then 15, and McRay were arrested in 2014 after Brenton's home was broken into while he and his wife were visiting their daughter at a drug rehab facility, police previously said. Thousands of dollars worth of jewelry along with prescription drugs were stolen.
After reviewing home surveillance video, Brenton identified both. The investigation further revealed that McCray, in jail at the time, then called his stepbrother and ordered him to kill Brenton.
According to the investigation, McCray first enlisted his girlfriend, Teirany Takara Inita Shelton, to speak with Brenton’s wife and convince the couple not to testify. When that plan fell through, police said McCray called Maxwell, making several mentions of the upcoming burglary trial and his need to have Brenton eliminated as a witness.
Several parties involved in the Joe Brenton homicide
Details gleaned from recorded jailhouse calls show McCray growing increasingly worried, Lt. Steve Gallaher said at the time.
"It became more and more evident that he was worried that he was going to prison for quite a while because of this impending conviction," the lieutenant said. "He convinced them that they needed to convince the Brentons that they needed to change their story or not testify."
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Then McCray told Shelton to go to the Brentons' home and try bribery or coercion to get their planned testimony changed.
"Take back your statements, money's no object," Shelton told Brenton's wife, according to an arrest report.
When Brenton's wife balked at the offer, the report said Shelton warned, "If you can't change your statement, we'll see what we can do."
McCray later spoke over the phone with Maxwell and gave the order to kill the Brentons, recruiting friend Demetris Deangelo Ford to make sure it was carried out as planned, the report said.
"I'm in the need, Bro, I go to trial tomorrow," McCray was recorded saying to Maxwell. "I ain't playing no games, tomorrow is the day."
On Sept. 23, 2016, investigators arrested McCray and his stepbrother, along with Shelton and Ford.
At the time, McCray's father, Tony Maxwell, said he had previously warned a judge about the dangerous influence his son wielded over Maxwell, his teenage son.
"I'm still beating myself up now because I feel like I failed my son," he said at the time. "I failed him."
Maxwell, now 22, is awaiting trial on adult charges of first-degree murder, murder, criminal conspiracy and battery on a law enforcement officer, court records show.
Shelton, 26, is charged with tampering with a witness but also has been charged with February 2018 counts of grand theft, jail records show. Ford, 25, is charged with criminal conspiracy to commit a capital felony. Both also are awaiting trial.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jecorian McCray guilty of ordering murder of Joe Brenton in Jacksonville