The top headline on May 17, 2015, stung Decatur: “2 dead, rash of crimes reported.”
The initial disbelief that a series of violent, random acts could occur in a city where neighbors routinely help one another gave way briefly to fear when residents read the article beneath that Sunday morning headline 4 ½ years ago. The perpetrators behind a pair of shooting deaths, several reported robberies and two shootings into dwellings remained at large.
Fortunately for Decatur residents, police arrested the four suspects in the lawlessness that same day.
A guilty verdict last week against the only defendant yet to be sentenced in the crime rampage ended a major phase of its aftermath. Even though Cedric Cowan won’t be sentenced until February, and appeals remain an option, several conclusions can be drawn.
• This outbreak of violence remains a tragedy on multiple levels. Poor, reckless decisions made from May 13-16, 2015, by three defendants who were then teens and one who was 20 gave them futures in prison and left two other young men dead from gunshot wounds. Joshua Davis, whose body was found at Wilson Morgan Park the morning of May 16, 2015, was only 25. Antonio Hernandez-Lopez, shot in the carport of an Albert Street home on May 15, 2015, was 27. Families of the victims will continue to mourn. “We can now start to heal a little bit,” Renee Davis, Joshua Davis’ mother, said Thursday. Families of the four defendants also are forever scarred. The three defendants sentenced so far have all received life sentences, with parole a stated possibility for only one of them.
• The Decatur Police Department prevented the tragedy from worsening by quickly identifying suspects and getting them into custody. The four defendants were arrested less than two days after Hernandez-Lopez’s murder. The resolution of their cases indicates the police found the correct suspects: Separate juries found two defendants guilty, and two other defendants admitted their guilt. The Police Department deserves praise for quickly ending the crime rampage in 2015 and providing prosecutors enough witnesses and evidence to produce guilty pleas and convictions.
• The judicial system was fair to the defendants, and the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office presented ample evidence to produce convictions in the public’s interest. Jurors heard six days of testimony this month in Cedric Cowan’s case. The other trial in the rampage also lasted more than a week. The convictions and guilty pleas involved three capital murder charges for two defendants but two counts of felony murder for two other defendants, showing the court system took care to distinguish one defendant’s actions from another.
Although the pain of this case remains, Decatur can start to move past it. With prayers, police vigilance and guidance to young people from churches, schools and community leaders, let’s hope a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again.