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There’s not a person among us who doesn’t wish 17-year-old Ethan Liming and his friends had found a different way to entertain themselves the night of June 2, 2022.
Life is so fragile it only takes one momentary mistake to horribly change the lives of far too many people.
Today Liming is dead and three young men whom Liming and his friends attacked with gel pellet guns as they played basketball now stand convicted in court of assault, but not more serious charges for causing Liming’s death.
Where fault lies in this complex and difficult case has been the focus of heated debate across Akron and beyond given the Liming group’s aggression toward Deshawn and Tyler Stafford and their cousin, who responded by fighting Liming, who hit his head on the pavement and died.
The debate was fueled by an initial police narrative firmly labeling Liming as a victim of a brutal assault while omitting the first part of the story. They even doubled down when asked about claims that Liming's group started the fracas, saying Liming’s death was not “remotely reasonable or justified.”
The location of the tragedy, the innovative I Promise School supported by the LeBron James Family Foundation, further fueled outrage, community concern and media attention.
And while police insisted that race played no role in the incident and noted Liming’s group was diverse, the bottom line was a white Firestone High School student preparing for his senior year was dead and the suspects were Black.
As more details emerged, many were understandably concerned about why the Staffords and their cousin were jailed on murder charges when Liming’s friends faced no criminal consequences. (We still don’t understand why Liming’s friends remain uncharged.)
A grand jury eventually opted for lesser charges against the Staffords, but prosecutors were unable to win convictions for involuntary manslaughter despite testimony stating both brothers punched and kicked Liming after he was on the ground.
Many will find it tough to accept Deshawn Stafford is facing prison when he was just playing basketball, especially after testimony revealed Liming also shot pellets at him a second time before the fight began. Others, including the Liming family, surely see the Staffords’ avoidance of more serious convictions as a miscarriage of justice.
To us, the jury’s verdicts resolved this case as fairly as possible, holding the Staffords accountable for going too far in their self-defense, while recognizing their natural response to defend themselves.
We wonder how any of us would respond to the Liming group’s actions, especially in a time where random shootings with real guns are far too common and “Stand Your Ground” is part of our laws. We’re grateful the outcome was not even worse.
With eight of 12 jurors against convicting Deshawn Stafford of involuntary manslaughter, we don’t see what would be gained by prosecutors seeking a second trial on that lone charge. His life is already forever changed with a felony conviction.
There’s much we should discuss with our children from this experience. Horseplay, as the police called it, will always be part of teen life and occasionally lead to unfortunate tragedy. But in today’s society, there’s no humor in randomly attacking people with toy guns.
We all also would benefit from remembering to not rush to judgment, understanding police often restrict information they are still figuring out or to protect their investigation. That’s fine as long the community is properly informed.
In the end, the justice system worked as best it could. But it was far too messy getting to this point.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Did the Strafford jurors get it right? Thoughts on Ethan Liming case