Following testimony of Damantae D. Graham's three co-defendants naming him as the killer of Kent State University student Nicholas W. Massa during a Feb. 7 robbery in Kent, a Portage County jury found him guilty on all counts after two hours of deliberation on Nov. 3.
Graham and his three co-defendants, all 18 years of age, had been charged with aggravated murder, three counts of kidnapping, and one count each of aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary, all first-degree felonies.
A sentencing hearing will take place next week to determine whether Graham goes to death row or faces life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.
Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci on Nov. 2 rested his case against Graham. Graham's defense attorneys, Anthony Koukoutas and Frank Beane, also rested Nov. 2, without presenting any evidence. Closing arguments were Nov. 3.
All three of Graham's co-defendants -- Ty A. Kremling, Marquis Grier and Anton Planicka -- identified Graham as the man who shot the 18-year-old KSU freshman from Westlake as he sat, his hands raised, on a friend's couch.
Their trials are set later this month in Judge Laurie Pittman's courtroom. All three were 17 at the time of the crimes, and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. Graham -- known to his co-defendants as "Mantae" -- was 18 and is eligible for the death penalty on the aggravated murder charge.
Grier, Kremling and Planicka testified after waiving their Fifth Amendment rights to self-incrimination and on the advice of their attorneys. They testified that it was Kremling who made the plan to rob the apartment of his former Stow-Munroe Falls High School classmate, Connor Haithcock, of marijuana and cash on Feb. 7.
Haithcock was dealing marijuana out of his apartment, and had the drug as well as hundreds and at times thousands of dollars in cash on hand, Kremling testified. He had purchased marijuana from Haithcock in the week before the robbery, he and other witnesses testified.
Grier, who also carried a weapon during the robbery but did not fire it, was in the apartment with Kremling and Graham when the fatal shot was fired. Planicka, the getaway driver, remained outside in his green Dodge truck with the engine running while the robbery went down.
Haithcock, a 19-year-old Stow-Munroe Falls High School graduate, testified Oct. 31 that he began selling marijuana and marijuana wax, or "dabs," several months after he moved into his third-floor apartment in the Ryan Place complex in the 1600 block of E. Main Street in Kent. He also stocked shelves at a grocery store in Stow, and had recently stopped attending classes at KSU's Twinsburg campus.
Haithcock testified he "mostly" sold small amounts of marijuana to friends, including his roommate, Justin Lewandowski and Massa, who was over at the apartment "every day" to hang out and do homework. He testified he sold marijuana to Kremling, a former high school classmate, twice in the weeks prior to the murder.
Neither Lewandowski nor Massa were selling drugs, according to Haithcock's testimony.
On Feb. 7, Massa and Lewandowski were doing homework and decorating the apartment with cardboard beer cases while Haithcock napped on a couch.
Kremling testified he asked Planicka to take him, Graham and Grier to the apartment in his green Dodge pickup truck. Planicka, who waited outside in the truck during the robbery, testified his promised reward was "gas money and some weed to smoke."
Lewandowski answered a knock at the door to find three masked African-American teens outside, dressed in dark clothing, including hoodies and bandannas to hide their faces and with Graham and Grier both carrying .380-caliber semiautomatic Hi-Point pistols. He said at least two of them were pointing guns at him. The robbers forced him, Haithcock and Massa to raise their hands and sit on their couches, as Graham allegedly asked: "Where's the dope? Where's the money?"
They were not expecting to also find Lewandowski and Massa in the apartment, Grier and Kremling testified. His gun pointed at the three victims, Graham took about $500 from Haithcock, and told Grier and Kremling to get Haithcock to give up more money believed to be hidden in the apartment, his co-defendants testified.
As Haithcock pretended to root around for more cash and drugs in his dresser, Lewandowski and Massa remained on a couch in the living room, hands in the air and a black semiautomatic pistol pointed at them. After Massa looked over at Lewandowski, Graham allegedly became angry.
"'What the (expletive) are you looking at him for?" Lewandowski said the gunman asked Massa. "'If you look at him one more time I'm going to shoot you.'"
Massa, his hands still raised, replied, "'You're not going to shoot me,'" Lewandowski testified.
Graham shot Massa once in the chest "less than a second later," he testified.
Lewandowski testified he called 911 after the robbers fled, and said they hid evidence of Haithcock's drug dealing to protect themselves and Massa.
The first Kent police officers on the scene found Massa on the couch, a gunshot wound to his chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Massa was a freshman business major and member of the ATO fraternity at KSU. Friends described him as kind, willing to do anything for anyone and the kind of person who put others before himself.
Kremling was arrested hours later in Stow after Haithcock identified his former classmate to Kent police. Grier was arrested Feb. 10 during a traffic stop in Kent, and Planicka was identified as the getaway driver.
Graham was found hiding in a bathroom cabinet in a house on Walnut Street in Ravenna on Feb. 12, according to Kent police detective Sgt. Richard Soika's testimony on Oct. 31, and refused to give a statement.
Planicka said Nov. 1 he testified against Graham and took responsibility for his crimes because, "I just want to see justice being served, by punishing the people who committed this robbery and this devastating murder."
He explained to defense attorney Frank Beane that "my moral compass grew a little bit stronger" during the last six months he has spent in jail.
"It's not fair for my family to have me when (the Massa) family doesn't have their son," Planicka testified.
Grier and Kremling said they testified against Graham in the hopes of getting a better deal from prosecutors on their own charges, but also expressed remorse.
"I feel bad," Kremling testified. "I didn't mean for this to happen. I feel wrong. I feel responsible."
Grier said it was "messed up for somebody to lose their life like that," and said he hoped he might get out of prison sooner "to be with my child."