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Victims speak out after triple murder conviction from 2018 carries nearly 200-year sentence

Lemere Joseph Jones will serve nearly 200 years in prison for his part in a triple homicide in 2018.

On Friday, Superior Court 1 Judge Jeffrey D. Todd sentenced Jones, 30, of South Bend, to 195 years after being convicted last month for the murders of Javon D. Blackwell, 42, Javon Blackwell Jr., 12 and Jayzon Blackwell, 11.

“The bottom line is a serious offender murdered a father and his two sons,” Todd said. “... Mr. Jones should never again be a free man.”

The Blackwells’ loved ones thanked Todd after the sentence was announced.

The murders took place on Dec. 30, 2018.

Investigators stated that Jones and two other suspects had planned to rob Javon Sr.

According to video evidence played at Jones’s bench trial, Jones said he went to the front door of Javon Sr.’s home on the 2600 block of South Gallatin Street, where Javon Sr. let him in.

In the video, Jones said he pretended to get some water from the kitchen, unlocking the back door to let the other two suspects in.

Jones claims that one of the other suspects came in and immediately started shooting, according to the video.

“These kids weren’t supposed to be in there … I didn’t want them to kill those kids, man,” Jones said in the video, claiming that he would have tried to put a stop to the plan if he’d known.

Attorneys with the State of Indiana asked Todd for the maximum sentence, stating that “if there were ever a case that deserved the maximum sentence, it would be this case.”

Attorneys with the state asserted that the murders happened in the presence of minors, with investigations indicating Javon Sr. was the first to be killed, meaning that at least one of the boys could have seen or heard the shooting.

According to attorneys, investigations indicated one of the victims was shot “execution style.”

“This was a cold, calculated murder,” state attorney Jamie Lee Moore said. “They died quickly if there’s any consolation in that.”

State attorneys said Jones has an extensive criminal history, starting when he was a juvenile. According to Moore, Jones was on parole at the time of the murders.

Todd said numerous attempts at rehabilitating Jones have failed.

During the sentencing, friends and family of the Blackwells’ testified, sharing memories of the boys and questioning how a person could murder children.

Jo Messner recalled how much family means to Diana Wilson, mother of Javon Jr. and Jayzon.

“I can’t imagine what she felt when you took her children away from her,” Messner said.

Jones interrupted Messner’s testimony, claiming he was not the one that killed the boys.

“Don’t say me, I didn’t do that,” Jones yelled.

Todd warned Jones to settle down and stop disrupting the courtroom, asking his attorney Jerry T. Drook to have a talk with him.

Jones refused to talk with his attorney and was escorted out of the courthouse.

“You didn’t do it, but you allowed it to happen,” Wilson said from the gallery. “You didn’t have to unlock the door.”

While Wilson did not testify, her husband, Brandon Wilson took to the stand.

“This person … made the decision to take my boys,” he said. “I wish he could live longer so he could serve all their live sentences … Heinous crimes done by heinous people.”

Kaylie Willis, Javon Jr.’s teacher at Anderson Preparatory Academy, gave a letter to the court, testifying on how their deaths impacted everyone they knew.

She said Javon Jr. was “the student every teacher dreams of having,” as he was a respectful, kind and diligent student who’d recently discovered a love for math and science.

“He always, always took the high road,” she wrote.

She said that while she didn’t know Jayzon very well, she was excited to have him as a student this year, expecting him to be the class clown.

She wrote that not only were their deaths hard on her, but hard on their classmates, who still struggle with coping and expressing their feelings.

“The thing about sixth graders is they know the gist of grief… It was hard enough losing one of my students, but it was harder explaining Javon was never coming back,” Willis wrote. “We lost their laughter, their energy, their friendship and so much more.

“Does (Jones) realize he negatively impacted 60 little people when they should have been focused on being kids? It’s up to no one to decide when to take a life that doesn’t belong to them,” she wrote.

She said that as a way to help her students cope, they did activities dedicated to remembering Javon.

“We’re so lucky we got to know him, even for a short time,” Willis wrote. “I will never understand why they had to be ripped away from us so mercilessly. It’s a pain I will never forget for the rest of my life.”

After being removed from the courthouses, Jones was brought back via a video conference.

He declined to give testimony during the hearing.

After receiving his sentences, Jones said he would be appealing, initially saying he would hire a private attorney or represent himself.

Ultimately, Jones said he would like to be appointed a public defender, asking for his next attorney not to be Drook.

Jones is entitled to a credit of 449 actual days for time served while awaiting trial.


Local
MCS alumni promote fitness during pandemic

Like many young kids these days, 7-year-old Lula Gibson needs a way to release all the energy that gets bottled up from being stuck in her home.

Lula said she enjoys dancing along to Youtube videos by the Fitness Marshall, a group that offers free videos on Youtube to get people moving.

“I really like how they want to help people when they’re in this quarantine by making videos to keep them energetic,” Lula said.

The Fitness Marshall Youtube channel, with more than 2 million subscribers, is run by three Marion High School graduates: Caleb Marshall, Haley Jordan and Allison Florea.

“It’s so cool to see how many different types of people are just inside with their families finding a reason to get up and move and laugh and dance and shine joy in the day,” Marshall said. “That is so special to me, and that’s just my focus right now to keep providing that to people.”

Although her favorite video is “Cheap Thrills,” Lula said she thinks Marshall is funny in all of his videos.

“In ‘Goodbye’ when they are doing the clock arms he’s like, ‘Aw, this burns,’ and that’s really funny to me,” Lula said.

Lula takes dance classes at the Community Center for the Arts, where Marshall danced when he lived in Marion.

“I like (dancing) because it’s basically expressing your feelings with your movement,” Lula said.

Lula is such a big fan of the Fitness Marshall that her seventh birthday was Fitness Marshall themed.

“They even made a little video for me that was them saying happy birthday to me,” Lula said.

Thinking about what she would say to the Fitness Marshall, Lula answered, “I would tell him thank you for giving me time to just dance and just move my body.”

Marshall said he identifies as a fitness pop-star.

“I like to think of myself as the lovechild of Richard Simmons and Brittany Spears,” Marshall said. “My goal is just to bring a lot of joy to the world and make everyone feel like they can be confident and powerful in their own body.”

Especially during this time, Marshall said he is trying to put out as much content as possible because people are stuck in their homes. In addition to his regular one-song dances, he is releasing free 30-minute workouts every week.

“This is a really interesting time. Everyone is looking for online fitness right now,” Marshall said. “So it’s a really cool opportunity to be able to provide people something to get through this time.”

While Marshall’s channel is not a kids channel, he created a kid-friendly playlist of some of his videos.

“I really appreciate the fact that a lot of families can do the Fitness Marshall videos together,” Marshall said. “The kid-friendly playlist was a way for me to say hey here’s a list of videos that I personally think that the general population wouldn’t have a problem with.”

All of Marshall’s videos use only clean language, but the kid-friendly videos do not have mature moves or suggestive themes.

“I just think it would make it a little easier for parents who don’t want to have to sit through and watch all the videos through to make sure it’s appropriate for their kids,” Marshall said. “All of the songs are edited just because I want as many people to enjoy them as possible.”

Finding physical activities that children enjoy while they are young is vital.

“When I was a kid, I had a really awful relationship with exercise. I always viewed it as a punishment, and I just wanted to stay inside and play video games,” Marshall said. “The only thing I would do one my own was get up and choreograph dances.”

If a child has negative experiences with working out, Marshall said they would not want to work out when they get older.

“I think that showing kids that there is a way to smile and laugh and have fun while you’re exercising is so important from a young age,” Marshall said. “They are going to take those experiences, and that’s going to shape how they feel about physical activity for the rest of their lives.”

The Fitness Marshall’s mission is to encourage people of all ages, body types, and skill levels to be themselves and have fun dancing.

Marshall said his mission came from his experiences with feeling self-conscious.

“I had a horrible relationship with my body image growing up, feeling like I didn’t look like a dancer, feeling like I didn’t belong in front of the camera,” Marshall said. “I think it’s so important that I created a space in fitness that shows different body types and different levels of dance because it’s not just for the elite or the really fit people or the super coordinated dancers. Anyone can get up and move and feel like they are a superstar.”

Jordan and Marshall moved to Los Angeles two and a half years ago, where they have grown the Fitness Marshall business and developed connections in the entertainment industry.

“It’s really been a whirlwind. Everything out here is so different,” Marshall said. “It’s been a really exciting journey.”

Without the support from friends and family in Marion, Marshall said they would not be where they are now.

“I am always grateful that I grew up in Marion, and I have those experiences and met those people,” Marshall said. “I know I wouldn’t be here without the people in Marion who lifted me up and supported me. I know that I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Patricia Gibson, Lula’s mother, said her friend, Diana Gardner, had known the group when they were students and connected her with the Fitness Marshall team.

“They’re just super awesome people and just super giving,” Gibson said. “It’s pretty cool that they’re from Marion.”


Local
Community Foundation, C-T launch Hearts for Healthcare Grant County initiative

Grant County residents can express their gratitude and show support for health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic with the launch of the Hearts for Healthcare Grant County initiative.

Hearts for Healthcare Grant County was established through a partnership between The Community Foundation of Grant County and the Chronicle-Tribune.

“We looked at needs within our community and felt that health care workers who are doing so much under very stressful conditions could use our help and encouragement during this time,” Chronicle-Tribune Publisher Linda Kelsay said.

“At the Community Foundation, we are blessed to witness authentic generosity every day,” Community Foundation of Grant County President/CEO Dawn Brown said. “Although this is an unprecedented time in the history of the world, we continue to witness people helping, giving and loving their neighbors and community in heartfelt ways – both big and small. I think we would all agree that there is certainly no audience at this time that deserves our gratitude more than our frontline health care workers. This is why we were honored to open the Hearts for Healthcare Grant County Fund at the Foundation.”

Community members can participate in Hearts for Healthcare Grant County in a variety of ways. Grant County residents are encouraged to create signs of encouragement by posting hearts in the windows of their homes and sharing good wishes and thank-you notes to those on the frontlines on Facebook at bit.ly/HFHGrantCounty.

Additionally, since many health care workers are working overtime and under stressful conditions, organizers are asking the community to donate to a fund that will be established at the Grant County Community Foundation with all funds staying in Grant County to help health care workers pay for childcare, food and other essentials during this time.

Tax-deductible donations of any amount can be made online at www.GiveToGrant.org/Hearts. Alternatively, checks can be mailed to the Community Foundation at 505 West Third St., Marion, IN 46952.

The Foundation Board will utilize the donations to make grants to local health care organizations who want to help their employees who might need additional supports such as help with childcare or food due to extended working hours or the payment of bills for health care workers who test positive for COVID-19. Please contact the Community Foundation for more information at 765-662-0065.

On April 25, the Chronicle-Tribune will publish a special section that will wrap the weekend edition that will share the positive stories of the many things our health care workers and other frontline personnel are doing to make Grant County the great place to live, work, pray and play.


Local
ISDH: 102 Hoosier deaths, 3,437 COVID-19 cases

Holcomb to extend stay-at-home order two more weeks

Gov. Eric J. Holcomb said Friday he will extend the stay-at-home order and restrictions on bars and restaurants an additional two weeks, to April 20 at 11:59 p.m., in an executive order he will sign on Monday. Holcomb signed an executive order Friday that extends the public health emergency originally declared March 6 through May 5, which allows the state to increase coordination across all levels of government in the state’s response to coronavirus.

Holcomb also announced Indiana has been granted a federal Major Disaster Declaration, which provides funds to help communities recover from COVID-19.

The funding can be used to cover costs of emergency needs including crisis counseling, food programs, temporary shelters, protective equipment, safety resources and personnel.

Additional steps taken today include:

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) has been working closely to provide maximum flexibility, including using telehealth, to treatment providers to ensure that crucial services for people that suffer from serious mental illness and children who suffer from severe emotional disturbances can continue. Hoosiers can call 211, or contact your insurance company, to find access to tele-therapy, and talk to your doctor about whether medication might be right for you during this time.

This weekend, the Indiana National Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana State Department of Health will scout locations for potential alternative care sites. Hoosiers may see the Indiana National Guard members traveling in communities and should not be alarmed.

Holcomb, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, House Speaker Todd Huston and Chief Justice Loretta Rush signed a joint letter to local criminal justice leaders regarding the impact of COVID-19 on detention facilities. The letter asks local judges, sheriffs and county leaders to properly identify which low-risk, non-violent juveniles and inmates, if any, may be re-evaluated and released safely into their communities under pretrial, probation or community corrections supervision.

Six Bureau of Motor Vehicles branches will be open by appointment only beginning Monday, April 6 to process new Commercial Learner’s Permits (CLP), new Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) and upgrade/downgrade for the CDL to add the tank vehicle or hazardous materials endorsement credential transactions. These branches are opening for appointments to support the current critical need to increase the number of new licensed commercial truck drivers on the road delivering supplies and to aid in the start of agricultural season in our state.

ISDH: 102 Hoosier deaths, 3,437 COVID-19 cases

The Grant County Health Department Friday reported a total of 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county.

The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Friday announced that 408 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at ISDH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and private laboratories. That brings to 3,437 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s total.

A total of 102 Hoosiers have died to date. Deaths are reported based on when data are received by ISDH and occurred over multiple days.

To date, 17,835 tests have been reported to ISDH, up from 16,285 on Thursday.

The complete list of counties with cases is included in the ISDH COVID-19 dashboard at coronavirus.in.gov.

Indiana 211 adds new COVID-19 resources

Indiana 211 is a free service that helps Hoosiers across the state find the local resources they need quickly, easily and confidentially. In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Indiana 211 is working closely with the Family Social Services Administration and United Way to add additional resources for those in need of assistance connecting with health and human services agencies in their local communities.

For those in need of food, counseling, internet or errand assistance, Indiana 211 has created a new site to serve as a hub of information on COVID-19 resources. Hoosiers can still find information regarding mental health and addiction services, housing and utility assistance and more as well.

To connect with a navigator, Hoosiers can dial 2-1-1 or 1-866-211-9966, which are both available 24/7. You can also text your ZIP code to 898-211 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to receive more information.

Indiana SNAP recipients will begin receiving maximum benefit amounts next week

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration announced Friday that more than 152,000 Indiana households will receive additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits when April distributions begin this Sunday. The additional funds are intended to help Hoosiers obtain food and support for their families while Indiana responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives states the option to provide SNAP households with the maximum SNAP allotment, which is based on household size. SNAP households which are not currently receiving the maximum allotment will receive additional benefits which bring their allotment amount to the maximum. Households already receiving the maximum benefit will not receive additional benefits.

Indiana SNAP recipients receive their benefits via electronic benefit transfer according to a schedule based on the first letter of their last name. Each month, distribution starts on the 5th and concludes on the 23rd.

All new applications authorized in April will also receive the maximum allotment for their household size. FSSA is working to inform various partners and stakeholders, including retailers, of the change to help them inform and explain to SNAP recipients the reason for the additional allotment.

Gas City ‘pausing’ Concerts in the Park

Over the course of the past few weeks, the Gas City Concerts in the Park team has begun to evaluate the viability of the 2020 season. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizers to cancel three major fundraising events, and sponsorship goals have not been achievable due to the inability to conduct the campaign.

Organizer Dennis Roach said the pandemic and the major tornado that hit Nashville last month has all but stopped dialogue with potential artists for the season. As a result of these issues, Roach said organizers have made the decision to pause the regular season of Concerts in the Park for 2020.

Roach said organizers are still planning and hoping to host 7eventh Time Down for a concert on July 28.


Local
School districts adapting to remote learning

Grant County families will be logging on, picking up paper packets of work and staying in contact with teachers through phone calls and video conferences for the remainder of the school year.

Local school corporations are adjusting to the realities of long term distance learning after Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Thursday executive order mandated schools remain closed for the rest of the academic school year and continue remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marion Community Schools Superintendent Brad Lindsay said he was not surprised by the announcement and is thankful the governor made the call that promotes the safety of students and staff.

He said while Marion is not equipped to be an eLearning district, there will be a variety of “enhanced learning” and enrichment opportunities for students throughout the rest of the school year, one of the pathways the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has approved for schools to complete the semester.

Marion Chief Academic and Technology Officer Scott Hoeksema said teachers and principals have been constantly adding these enhanced learning activities for grades preschool through 12 on the district’s website that mixes a combination of online and offline activities. Lindsay said families without internet connection at home have been mailed these activities up to this point, but the district will soon be announcing scheduled times for packets of work to be picked up by parents at schools, much like the current food distribution plan.

“So again we wanted to make these activities easy and simple for our families to do,” Hoeksema said. “We wanted to make sure that we provided a good opportunity for family time so that it’s parents interacting with their children in a productive educational way, but also there are times that if they had access to the internet that there are some of our resources that they could get on and utilize as well.”

Marion High School students have access to enhancement activities, Hoeksema said, but also have take-home one-to-one technology devices that have allowed courses and work to have a more typical, structured format. Marion High Principal Keith Burke noted dual credit and AP classes are “business as usual” with the same typical course load, especially as students prepare to take altered AP exams from home later this spring.

“Our focus has been with those areas to make sure we are providing those credit-bearing courses the opportunity for some of that interaction with that, but we also know that the Department of Education is allowing that enhanced learning piece to be mixed in with that,” Hoeksema said. “So that gives us that flexibility with our younger students, with our students who don’t have those devices at home with them currently, to be able to still interact with educational materials and still interact with their teachers and school staff.”

Hoeksema said district teachers, principals, social workers and other staff members are taking time each day to check in with families and students through various methods on how the home learning is going. Lindsay said during this pandemic, school officials are focusing on the overall health, safety and wellbeing of students and families – with learning being an important but “distant second priority.”

Lindsay said all of the work has the continued goal of moving toward established grade-level standards in the various subjects, but grading will take on a different form for the rest of the year at Marion schools. He said enrichment assignments and other work completed by students from this point forward will act as a “bonus” upward toward a final grade, but no grades will be lowered from where they were when school closed in March.

Burke said the Department of Education has advised that any senior that was on track to graduate when schools were ordered closed will be able to graduate.

Marion administrators are working on submitting the required plan to IDOE by the April 17 deadline outlining how requirements are being met, which will include a more concrete calendar of which days are enrichment days and which are waiver days, Lindsay said.

Lindsay said he envisions the enrichment learning activities will continue to be offered in the summer and through the beginning of next school year to help keep kids learning and on track. Marion officials are also considering an early start to next school year to help establish routines and protocols for younger students and conduct baseline assessments to help give students the interventions they need as soon as possible.

Lindsay noted there is strong research that shows the longer children who live in poverty are away from school, the greater the achievement gap widens, so the district will be actively fighting against that reality in all of its work until school is back to “normal.”

“The reality is four out of five of our children are born into and living in the constant disadvantage of poverty,” Lindsay said. “But here’s what I’m optimistic about: We’re having to reinvent ourselves.”

Madison-Grant United School Corporation

Madison-Grant United School Corporation Superintendent Scott Deetz said the district will continue its schedule that began this week of eLearning on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and waiver days on Mondays and Fridays through May 21, the scheduled last day of school. Each student has a Chromebook that they are using for eLearning, and homework is due each week by 9 a.m. Monday morning, Deetz said.

Deetz said since M-G students have been taking home one-to-one technology for years, the systems and mechanisms are in place to continue to monitor progress during eLearning and assign grades to students accordingly.

Even though there are challenges to eLearning, Deetz said he has enjoyed seeing staff, students and parents grow and work together through the new format. He said teachers are communicating with students in a variety of ways, including live video chats, and are working with all staff to particularly connect with students who are not as engaged as others.

“We had a kiddo that was having a hard time in biology and their family was really kind of at their wits’ end and that student actually reached out to his guidance counselor and said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” Deetz said. “They did a virtual conference – pulled in the mom via phone who was at work – they worked out some things and come to find out by the end of the afternoon not only did the family have a plan, but the kiddo actually had gotten caught up in biology through working with their teacher in a little different way.”

Deetz said the biggest challenges have been the new roles everyone finds themselves in and adjusting to a completely new schedule. He said “grace” has become a new motto for district staff.

“It’s in that grace you are trying to understand why things aren’t turning out maybe the way we thought they would, and through that understanding of why that we can begin to rebuild or repair whatever that issue is,” he said.

M-G staff is focusing on the day-to-day education of students, but Deetz said they are also preparing for what new programs or initiatives may be needed to get students back on track next fall.

Eastbrook Community Schools

Eastbrook Community Schools Superintendent Brett Garrett said the district’s plan for eLearning on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with waiver days Mondays and Fridays will continue at least through May 1, but administrators will be meeting on Monday to determine how the rest of the school year will look.

“I am confident that we are on pace for the 160-day threshold,” he said. “Obviously, eLearning is not a perfect, sustainable plan. However, I am very proud and thankful for how collaborative our students, teachers, administrators, support staff and parents have worked through this process.”

Garrett said there will be a “remedial focus” for every Eastbrook student when school resumes in the fall.

“We will need to assess where all of our students are and create an individual course of action or learning plan for each one of them,” he said.

Mississinewa Community Schools

Mississinewa Community Schools Superintendent Tab McKenzie said eLearning will begin April 14 and be held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for the remainder of April. While the plan is not finalized yet, he said he anticipates moving to eLearning Mondays through Fridays for the month of May through the scheduled last day of school May 22.

“All of our students K-12 will have a device and have experience on that device and have a means by which they can contact their teachers, and if they need technical support we have provided them the information they need to get that support,” he said.

McKenzie said he is optimistic school will be fully open on time in the fall, but school administrators are planning for every possibility, including continued eLearning, scenarios where in-school attendance is optional and more.

“Some families if the school doors open will want their kids physically at school and some families (will wait) until there is a vaccine or testing for everybody, truly everybody, to see whether they have had it or if they currently have the virus,” McKenzie said. “Until one or both of those situations exist, I don’t know that you can with 100 percent certainty see school being the way it was up to March 16, so we’re going to plan as if it won’t be like it used to be and hope that it’ll be more like it used to be.”

Oak Hill United School Corporation

Oak Hill United School Corporation stated in a letter to staff and families Thursday that “it is too early” to announce how the closure will alter its schedule, but students should plan on continuing eLearning days Tuesdays through Fridays beginning April 7 until further notice.

“We will pass along any adjustments from this current learning plan as well as any new determinations made at the administrative level (this includes all topics of a school’s operations such as who is essential staff at OHUSC, what does this mean for our graduation ceremony, how will library books get returned, etc.),” the letter states.

All five school corporations said that while specific logistics may change, food distributions for students will continue through the end of the scheduled school year with some districts continuing into summer. Officials advised to check each district’s website or call your child’s school for the latest information.