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Kevin Neri, Earl Jones murder trial: 'This has nothing to do with race,' attorney says

Black Lives Matter says shooting was race-related
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Posted at 9:59 AM, Oct 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-11 13:44:51-04

CINCINNATI -- For months, Black Lives Matter Cincinnati has highlighted the shooting death of 19-year-old Kevin Neri as a racially-motivated murder case.

"Today marks the first anniversary of the racist murder of Kevin Neri," the group posted on its Facebook page in May. "His lovely family is still fighting to get justice for their beloved son and they need all our support."

The group planned a protest outside the courthouse Tuesday when they heard Earl Jones, the man charged with aggravated murder in Neri's death, was offered a plea deal.

Bill Gallagher, Jones' attorney, said Jones rejected the plea deal, and jury selection is underway. The prosecutor's office confirmed this information.

“Black Lives Matter took some text messages out of context and decided this was about race," Gallagher said. "I don't even think the prosecutor's office thinks this (case) about race. It’s a straight case of self-defense."

A spokesperson for the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office said the prosecutor could not comment on the case with the trial underway.

Gallagher said the case "is about an argument between two men."

Black Lives Matter said Jones shot Neri -- a black man -- because he was angry that his ex-girlfriend was dating him. Jones' ex-girlfriend (Neri's girlfriend at the time) was the mother of Jones' child; the child spent time with Neri, which angered Jones, the group said.

"Earl Jones shot and killed Kevin Neri in cold blood," the group said in a post. "Earl Jones didn't want a black man raising his son so he drove to the house where his ex-girlfriend and Kevin lived and shot Kevin in the back."

Police did confirm that Neri was dating Jones' ex-girlfriend, the mother of Jones' child. 

Gallagher said the case is not about race and Jones is not racist.

"Kevin has an African-American sister, African-American cousins; he's coached African-American kids," Gallagher said. "He's taken (a) stance on the Confederate flag on Facebook. And he says the N-word, n*gger and n*gga, but I don’t think the prosecutor nor Earl believes race played a part.”

On the day of Neri's death, Jones turned himself in to police and said he shot Neri in self-defense. In court, prosecutors described Jones as vengeful and said he purposefully and calculatedly shot Neri to death.

Witnesses said, via 911 calls, Jones shot Neri eight times in the front yard of Neri's home on Overdale Drive.

Jury selection began Tuesday, a prosecutor's office spokesperson said.

The prosecution submitted text messages and Facebook posts by Jones as evidence in the case, according to court documents. Text messages, Gallagher said, are the basis for Black Lives Matter's claim that Jones is racist.

Jones' attorney also filed motions to throw out testimony that he claims was "coerced" by investigators, according to court documents.

Judge Leslie Ghiz, the judge who heard ex-police officer Ray Tensing's second murder trial, is assigned to the case.