Gunman, 17, accepts deal for 32½ years in St. Paul bus slaying

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2007 - 4:43 PM

Jerome Pablo (Ro-Ro) Cross will turn 18 today, a day after he agreed to spend at least the next 32½ years in prison for killing 16-year-old Earl Ray Freeman aboard a Metro Transit bus in downtown St. Paul.

As the victim's family followed Cross' supporters out of the courtroom after the hearing, a scuffle broke out in the hall. The shooting victim's father, Earl Sr., was punched and at least two people were knocked down, but police and sheriff's deputies quickly broke up the fight. A 20-year-old man was arrested and could be charged with inciting a riot, police said.

Fights had also broken out on the day Cross was charged and outside the funeral for Freeman. On Tuesday, prosecutors Heidi Westby and Shereen Askalani, along with two police investigators, escorted about a dozen family members and friends of the victim into the courtroom to keep them separate from about three dozen supporters of Cross. They piled into benches on the opposite side.

Cross' case had been scheduled to go before a grand jury today for it to consider handing up an indictment for first-degree murder. A conviction on that charge carries a life prison sentence.

The shooting happened about 12:20 a.m. April 22 aboard a Route 74 bus on 5th Street. Freeman had been waiting for the bus at 5th and Minnesota Streets with Emmett Wilson-Shaw and Roshadie Suggs when another group of teenagers, including Cross, tried to start a fight, according to court documents.

Cross and the others got on the bus two blocks away at Jackson Street. He admitted in court Tuesday that he had brought a gun -- a Jennings 9-millimeter -- with him with the intention of shooting Wilson-Shaw.

"He [Wilson-Shaw] said he was going to kill me," Cross said under questioning by Westby.

Bullet didn't hit target

Instead, Cross's bullet hit Freeman, who was sitting next to Wilson-Shaw at the back of the bus. Cross said he ran off the bus, throwing the gun and his gloves in a Dumpster. Then he went home and went to sleep, he said.

Cross, with a long black braid hanging down his back, showed no emotion during the hearing. He pleaded guilty to second-degree intentional murder and agreed to a sentence at the high end of the sentencing guidelines -- at least 391 months.

"Is this what you want to do today?" Judge Robert Awsumb asked.

"Yes," Cross replied.

Awsumb set sentencing for Jan. 4.

The shooting of Freeman was the second homicide and the third violent attack on buses in two months. In response, Metro Transit increased the hours that police ride buses and began installing digital surveillance systems on buses.

Tears, then a fistfight

Members of the victim's family wiped away tears during Tuesday's hearing.

As Cross was led out of the courtroom by deputies, his father, James Cross, yelled, "I love you, man!" Other supporters chimed in, "Love you" and "You'll be back."

The defendant's family left the courtroom first, followed by Freeman's family.

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