By: Lessa Leigh (originally published on http://www.rustbelttribune.com)
Sitting down with Kevin Neri’s parents, Daneal and Cesar, it becomes clear that “love is the why” in the Neri family. With tears in their eyes, they will describe the most mundane moments in their son’s life in a way that causes the listener to really feel Kevin in their heart. As they relay story after story, the senselessness of Kevin’s murder becomes more apparent with each word. His was a life cut short too soon and for all the wrong reasons.
On Easter, May 16th, it was exactly eleven months since Earl Jones shot Kevin Neri in the side close to his back, as Kevin was turning to flee. In that time, Earl Jones has been charged with aggravated murder, yet as the months pass, the family has been made to feel forgotten by the justice system. There’s been talk of having Earl Jones plea down to manslaughter, but as the Neris make clear, “manslaughter isn’t murder”, and their son was murdered.
It was premeditated what Earl Jones did on May 16, 2016, coming to the home shared by Kevin and his ex-girlfriend under the guise of picking up their son unexpectedly. He carried a loaded gun, and he’d announced his plans to take action against Kevin earlier in the day. In front of multiple witnesses, he shot Kevin in the back in the driveway. He fired several rounds into a house crowded with children and adults, and while he luckily didn’t kill anyone else, he did kill Kevin. Then he got back into his car, calmly called 911, said he’d killed Kevin “in self-defense”, and asked for guidance to the nearest sheriff’s office.
Manslaughter is an accident. It’s an unintentional killing of another human being. This was not manslaughter. Kevin was murdered.
Kevin was nineteen when he died. Daneal describes him as a near genius, who could change the atmosphere of a room just by walking into it. He was a gifted artist, and his mother wears a tattoo on her left arm that mirrors the sleeve Kevin had when he died. On it are flowers of each of the family members’ zodiac signs that were hand-drawn by Kevin, and the only difference between the two tattoos is that his mother’s has Kevin’s name in the center, a zodiac sign quote “My uniqueness is my effectiveness”, and the dates and times of Kevin’s birth and death.
His father, Cesar, tells of how total strangers come to him now, eleven months after Kevin’s death and told him so many stories about Kevin that he didn’t know. His pride in his son is evident, but there’s poignancy because he can’t share what he’s learned about Kevin with him. He says, with his voice breaking slightly, “As a father, I wanted more…but he was way beyond. He did way more than I even expected.” With every story his parents tell, you can feel him in the room, and the weight of his loss grows heavier.
So, why is it that justice for Kevin Neri is moving so slowly? He was an exemplary human being. His light shone brightly for all. He was murdered in cold blood in front of many people. From a prosecutorial standpoint, this should be a slam-dunk. However, as I spoke with the Neris, their frustrations with the Hamilton County prosecutors and the victims’ advocates are justified. They feel that they have been stonewalled. Communication and transparency from the prosecutors has been nil. There’s strong evidence to suggest that they want Earl Jones to plea down to manslaughter against the wishes of the Neri family, who do not believe justice will be served in that outcome.
The questions fly because Kevin was black. Earl Jones is white.
Kevin’s girlfriend, Cyerra, is white. Cyerra’s five year old son with Earl Jones is white. Earl Jones, according to witnesses and various text records, was furious that a black man was successfully integrated into his child’s life. Earl Jones was furious that Kevin Neri, a black man, had access to his child. By all accounts, Kevin was a wonderful example to Earl Jones’ child. He taught the little boy how to ride a bike, how to hit a baseball off a tee. By all accounts, Kevin was a fantastic partner to Cyerra. She was wildly in love with Kevin, and her family said they had never seen her so happy.
Yes, this case is about race and racism. It’s also about the verbal and emotional abuse that Earl Jones heaped upon Cyerra. It’s about the verbal and emotional abuse that Earl Jones heaped on Kevin Neri, in coming to Kevin’s work and calling him racial slurs. It’s about a man, who was extremely angry because his “property” was no longer his. It’s about a man, who was willing to potentially kill more human beings in his rage against an innocent man. It’s about a family, who has been decimated by the lost of a son, a brother, a man.
On May 8th, Earl Jones will appear for a pre-trial hearing before the Hamilton County judge handling the case, Judge Leslie Ghiz. Prosecutor Amy Trainter needs to know that we want justice…real justice…for Kevin Neri. You can contact the prosecutor’s office at 513-946-3000. In addition, you can sit in the courtroom gallery on May 8th in support of the Neri family. You can share this article far and wide. You can decide that justice needs to happen in this case and many others. You can demand that prosecutors and victim advocates work hard for the families, who have been destroyed by the murder of an innocent loved one.
(This interview was conducted at the request of the Neri family and was held at the office for Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati)