I-Team Unsolved: Drug deal ends with 'execution' death of dad, son, police say

Boy's mother still mourning seven years later

In our I-Team Unsolved series, WCPO examines homicide cold cases in Greater Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI -- Sybil Kelley feels the deep heartache of street violence more than most. She has been living with it since the day her 14-year-old son and his father were shot to death seven years ago.

Kelley has a message for their killers, who have still not been caught. A witness said he saw three men fleeing from the scene. It's the same message she tells her younger son and other teens.

"With so much violence going on in the world, I try to talk to the guys and let them know, once you kill one person, you killed the whole family. You might as well say 'Shoot the whole family' because you're going to be so hurt, so heartbroken, so not into life anymore," Kelley said, recounting her own experience.

"It's a lot. It's a lot."

Kelley's nightmare started with a drug deal, Cincinnati Police Det. David Gregory said.

Before you judge, hear the circumstances.

Gregory has been working the case since he responded to the scene on Rammelsberg Street in Walnut Hills on Sept. 25, 2010. Gregory said he found young Ja Renta Reed and his dad, 40-year-old James Reed, dead in the front seat of Kelley's SUV on the secluded, dead-end street.

"They were both basically executed," Gregory said. "We believe the shots were fired from the vehicle, inside the vehicle."

Kelley said detectives told her that the killers fired 10 shots from the back seat. Some went through the windshield and the doors.

"There was an arranged drug deal," Gregory said. "People got into the back seat to do the deal and something went wrong. Something went very wrong."

But what? And why?

Kelley said -- and Gregory agrees -- that James Reed sold drugs, but he was not a violent man. Reed had done a 10-year stretch in prison and had been out for about a year, said Kelley. She and Reed lived together and had a 20-year relationship, she said. She described him as "a good man" -- loving, kind and committed to family.

Kelley said detectives had asked her if James had any enemies and she couldn't think of any.

"I'm like, no, because this man is too sweet to everybody and anybody. He's not that type of violent person," Kelley said.

Likewise, detectives asked if anyone would want to hurt Ja Renta, she said.

"I couldn't bear with that. My son was 14. Never missed a day of school. Straight-A honor roll," Kelley said.

While James was behind bars, Ja Renta had grown from a toddler to a teen. Father was still bonding with son, though Kelley said she certainly didn't approve of James taking Ja Renta on a drug deal.

"All I remember is Ja Renta came to me and asked me for my car keys so he and his dad could go somewhere," she said, "I handed them the keys and that was the last time I heard from them."

So what went wrong? Kelley has an idea, based on what detectives told her.

"I didn't know that same night James had bought some drugs from some other guy for about a thousand dollars," she said.

Ja Renta did not go on that buy, she said -- only the second one.

"That's what's bothering me so bad because they know that was his child, but like the detectives told me, they had to kill him because they didn't want to leave no witness," Kelley said.

Kelley smiled and her face lit up at the memories of her son.

 

"He enjoyed school, video games. He loved his PSP -- like a mini Playstation. He had an MP3 player -- he liked his music," she said.

"He liked to joke a lot. He'd make you laugh. He could just walk in the house and everybody would just have a big smile on their face because they were just so happy to see him. He brought so much to the table. So much peace. So much love. And fun."

Then Kelley laughed and told a story about Ja Renta.

"He called himself Jesus. I thought I had to bring that up because that was funny," she said. "Any time he was about to get in trouble, he would just say 'Jeez-sus' and he'd know you'd leave him alone because you would think, 'Jesus, I don't want us to whoop this child.'

"Anytime he was in trouble, he'd say 'Jeez-sus,' and he knew he'd get saved."

She said she's sure Ja Renta would have grown up to be "successful, to be a good man, a good person."

"We could be in a grocery store -- me and Ja Renta -- and he would help an old lady out with anything if she needed something. He was just so sweet and kind," Kelley said.

But Kelley's laughter turned to tears when she remembered her own mother's pain at losing her grandson.

She said her mom died "from a broken heart" three years after the killings.

 

"That was her first grandchild," Kelley said, breaking into sobs and pausing. "She actually passed away on the day they got murdered ... the anniversary. And that still bothers me because ... she never got justice or no answers and she died with a broken heart. That hurts the most.

"Every time I have their anniversary, I also have hers. But I know she's up in heaven and she's looking over my son."

Seven years later, Kelley said she is still working through the pain of losing Ja Renta and James. First, she had to overcome her fear that the killers might come for her and her younger son, Dennis, now 10.

Then there was putting aside her anguish and being a mother again.

"I actually shut down on my other son, Dennis, for about three years," she said. "It took me a while to get back to life, to talk to anybody, to trust anybody. I still have problems with that, but my pastor's been working with me. He's doing a wonderful job right now.

"Me and my son are not scared to go outside no more. We were scared at first to go outside because we thought they were coming for us."

Kelley misses James, too, and she defended him -- not his drug dealing, but for what he did for his family.

"I understand he was dealing with drugs and stuff like that, but he still was a lovely father," she said. "He had other kids besides Ja Renta. He had three older kids and, you know, he made sure he took care of home. He never forgot about us even though he was doing 10 years in jail. He would still write everybody and let them know we all still need to be together as a family, stick together no matter what."

She said he was always there for her and his kids -- even during hard times.

"That's why it's so hard to believe that someone would kill him because, even though he sold drugs, he still wasn't no violent man," she said. "He wouldn't bring violence upon nobody ... or say something bad to somebody."

Kelley said she hopes someone will come forward with information to help Gregory find the killers. She said she and her family want closure, and Gregory said he is anxious to provide it.

Police have persons of interest in the case, Gregory said, "but we need additional information to put all of the pieces together. That little detail that someone has that they think we may already know about? Well, don't assume what we know. You bring us all the information. We'll put it together."

If you have any information about the Reed killings, call Crime Stoppers at (513) 352-3040.

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