AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- An Akron man has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killing of a former high school football star during a robbery last summer, even though he wasn't the one who pulled the trigger.
Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands handed down the sentence to 26-year-old Tony Deon Gray Jr., 26, on Friday, chastising him for his alleged gang involvement and for his role in the killing of former Ellet High School football star Paris Wicks.
Wicks, 23, was fatally shot behind a convenience store in August after he tried to help a friend and former teammate who was being robbed at gunpoint.
Gray is the first of four defendants to stand trial in the case. Prosecutors convinced jurors that he was complicit in the murder by helping the shooter leave the scene.
The jury found Gray guilty of murder, felonious assault and complicity to robbery. Gray is planning to appeal.
Attorneys said that Gray could have avoided a life sentence had he not rejected a plea deal that would have guaranteed his release from prison in as few as 10 years, The Akron Beacon Journal reported, (http://bit.ly/1lwaxzz).
But Gray wanted to try to win an acquittal.
"I just want to say I didn't kill nobody or shot nobody and I didn't influence nobody to kill nobody," Gray told Judge Rowlands.
Rowlands reminded Gray that under Ohio law as an accomplice to murder, Gray is equally responsible as the alleged shooter, a 16-year-old Akron boy.
"No one ever claimed you shot Paris Wicks ... but you were there," Rowlands told the defendant. "And that is the truth. The cold hard truth."
She also referenced the violent videos that Gray helped produce and upload online. They showed guns being shoved in people's faces, among other violent imagery.
"You claim that you're not a murderer, your mother says that you're not a murderer. That may or may not be the case," Rowlands said to Gray. "... You portrayed yourself as a murderer, happily, gleefully, in those videos. So it should come as no surprise to anyone, let alone you, that the jury found you to be guilty of murder."
Gray will not be eligible for parole until 2040.
Wicks was a former all-city tailback at Ellet High School who led the Orangemen to a share of the City Series title in 2006. He later played football at Youngstown State.
His mother, Ronda Wicks, spoke in court about the differences in the choices her son made and those made by Gray. While her son worked to live on his own, Gray, she said, chose "to rob and intimidate and terrorize his neighbors."
She recalled the day she rushed to the scene of her son's shooting.
"I felt the deepest pain that any mother is capable of, but should never have to feel," she said through tears.
Now, she said that she and her daughters are left with only memories, old emails and text messages, cards her son sent, and Instagram posts she plays "just so I can hear his voice."
Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com