Detective Clinton Vogel found 12-year-old Jerimayer Warfield lying in a puddle of blood on the floor of the Seventh Avenue Market. Lying on his left side, Jerimayer had been shot to death, struck down by two bullets, part of a hailstorm of 40 shots that had rained down around him. Bullet holes pocked the tile floor around him. Now Jerimayer’s blood, following the slant of the convenience store floor, was pouring into those holes. He was covered in his own blood, from his head to his knees. In front of his belly, the blood was smeared, as if his arm had swept the ground in the midst of his fall. In front of Jerimayer’s knees, his blood had settled into a red crescent shape. A half dollar in loose change was scattered across the U shape. Near Jerimayer’s head, just beyond the grasp of his left hand, lay his 59-cent ice cream sandwich, still unopened. The white wrapper was smudged with blood, but the filling hadn’t melted yetJerimayer was killed right next to the freezer.
Jerimayer still held a coin in his right hand. His other hand was relaxed and open. He was wearing white sneakers with black-edged soles and a pair of navy blue trousers, dressy enough that he might have worn them to church that Sunday morning. His thigh-length winter coat was partially open. The bright blue hood lay open, exposing the crisp yellow lining; the bright colors contrasted with Jerimayer’s brown skin and his close-cropped hair. His eyes were scarcely open.
That’s what Vogel saw.
Since Jan. 1, the Seventh Avenue Market has been under new ownership. It is now called Garfield’s Market. It sits on a mostly empty block at the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and Garfield Street in North Nashville. The area is often called “‘Kalb Hollow,” named for the DeKalb county transplants who settled there; it is just down the street from the mill that locals call “Werthan Bag.” The neighborhood is an old one, the former home of several of Nashville’s best-known political families: Juvenile Court Clerk Kenny Norman and his sister, Circuit Court Judge Barbara Haynes, inherited the land on which the market stands. Metro Council member Leo Waters grew up here too, almost across the street from the market. Neither Waters nor any member of the Norman family lives here anymorenot in this run-down enclave of shotgun houses and brick duplexes with its encroaching, creepy sprawl of public housing. Most of its residents now are either working poor or living on welfare.
The area has a bad reputation, but, in the daylight, it doesn’t feel particularly threatening. On a frozen day in February, the snow is still piled into low drifts, and most of the side streets are still iced up, too slick for travel. With the temperature in single digits, people stay inside. At Garfield’s market, the only visitor is the Colonial bread jobbercustomers, panicked by forecasts of a major snowstorm, have left the shelves nearly empty. Tim Miller is the cashier at Garfield’s. Sometimes, on this snowbound day, a friend will duck in for a chat. Otherwise, it’s Tim and the TV.
Shortly after the shooting of Jerimayer Warfield, a Tennessean headline dubbed Seventh and Garfield “Crack Corner.” Miller, who has worked at the market for two years, scoffs at the idea.
Gesturing toward cold empty streets, he laughs. “Them boys couldn’t get $100 together between ’em. Comin’ in here, talkin’ ’bout ‘gimme a bag of chips until tomorrow.’ ” Miller says the neighborhood looks more dangerous than it is, especially at night when kids hang out in the streets. Sometimes, he says, kids come in and “mess” with him. Miller, decked out in his Super Bowl XXX sweatshirt, is built like a bouncer. It is difficult to imagine anyone really messing with him.
Rochelle Cowan, Jerimayer’s aunt, lives in the duplex across the street. Her 15-year-old daughter, Consolea “CoCo” Cowan, was Jerimayer’s best friend. They frequently walked over to the market together.
On Sunday, Dec. 17, CoCo and Jerimayer were in the market, “messing” with Tim Miller, trying to convince him to unlock the game room in the back of the store. Ever since a group of kids had vandalized some of the machines, Miller had kept the room locked.
Two other people were in the store: Jerimayer’s mother, Elaine Warfield, and a neighbor, James Robinson. While Miller chatted with Jerimayer and CoCo, he left the cash register and propped the store’s glass door open. Jerimayer slid open the glass lid of the ice cream freezer and took out an ice cream sandwich. He paid for the ice cream, and Miller handed him his change. It was about 1 p.m.; Jerimayer was positioned in front of the open door.
There was a blistering barrage of shots. Miller dropped to the floor. “Then somebody hollered something, I don’t know what,” he recalls. He looked for Jerimayer, but he couldn’t see him; he assumed that the boy had taken shelter. When Miller crawled around the counter, he says, he realized that Jerimayer was bleeding. “That’s when I called 911,” he says.
Miller points out the hole left by an armor-plated shell that entered a display rack, about a foot from where Jerimayer fell. On the opposite side of the rack, a quarter-inch dent marks the spot where the bullet should have torn through the metal again. On the day of the murder, Miller says, bullets rattled the snack cakes off the shelves of the rack. The cakes have still not been replaced. Since the murder, the Little Debbie man hasn’t been back to restock.
By coincidence, Metro Homicide Detective Clinton Vogel was behind the Seventh Avenue Market on the afternoon of Dec. 17. He was working on his day off, investigating a suicide and a murder, both of which had taken place in the vicinity. Looking for a connection between the two deaths, he had headed for a duplex behind the market, hoping to interview the suicide victim’s sister. Her car was home, but she wasn’t. Vogel turned back toward the market, planning to search for her there.
As he walked around the puddles and potholes in the lot behind the market, Vogel recalls, he looked across the vacant lot east of the market and saw a car, a Chrysler New Yorker, speeding down Garfield and headed toward the market. It was moving fast, “too damn fast to be going through a neighborhood,” he says. “And something else was odd. It was drizzling pretty well, but all four car windows were down. Then I heard a boom, like thunder. I thought, ‘That’s funny, there’s no lightning.’ Then there were 30 to 40 rounds popping off, so fast it sounded like an automatic.”
Scarcely slowing down, the car turned right at the corner, heading north on Seventh. Another eight to 10 rounds peppered the west wall of the marketconcrete was flying; chunks of the market wall ricocheted across nearby parked cars. Vogel remembers that the car was coming at him and that “at least one man in the backseat was still firingI could see the muzzle flash.” He saw that three of the four people in the car were wearing ski masks and that the two men in the backseat had long guns. They cleared the market and stopped firing, but they didn’t speed off. Vogel looked right in their faces. He had dropped to one knee at the first shot; now he fell to the ground. Seeking cover, he rolled toward a dumpster.
Clinton Vogel was not wearing his uniform. His car was an unmarked Ford Taurus. For some unknown reason, the gunmen in the Chrysler just looked at him and drove away. They could have ripped him to pieces.
Vogel ran back to his car and radioed for help“It sounds like a firefight over here,” he reported. Then he heard shouting from the intersection. A woman was screamingit was Elaine Warfield, screaming that her son was dead. Vogel grabbed a pistol clip and his walkie talkie and ran to the market. Jerimayer Warfield was lying about six feet inside the door, his own blood spilling around him. “He was just a little kid, for Christ’s sake,” Vogel remembers. The detective checked for a pulse, but he already knew it was too late.
Four men are suspected in the killing of Jerimayer Warfield: brothers Shaun Smith, 22, and LeDonte Smith, 17, their cousin Gary Jordan, 23, and Joe Davis Martin Jr. Gary Jordan and LeDonte Smith are in custody. Police believe that both Martin and Shaun Smith are still in the city. The Metro Homicide Squad has reasons for identifying the four men as the passengers in the Chrysler New Yorker. Metro Homicide Detective Grady Eleam is convinced that the Smiths were the gunmen. He has constructed a blunt, but thorough, scenario that explains why these four men would barrel past a nondescript cinderblock grocery store and fire 2-inch Chinese warshells at the strangers inside.
Eleam’s explanation runs like this: xx xxThe Smiths have another brother, Mitchell “Mo” Smith. Along with Martin, Jordan and several other acquaintances, the group operates an armed robbery ring, preying on dope dealers and gambling houses. Their victims are criminal types who can’t afford to report the robberies. According to the word on the street, members of the Smith gang stole four to five kilos of cocaine that belonged to a rival gang operating in the Seventh and Garfield neighborhood.
The Smiths were fingered in the take, and the Seventh and Garfield gang decided to retaliate with a drive-by shooting. On the Saturday night before the assault on the market, a car cruised past the Smiths’ house at 1402 Heiman St. A gunman in the car took a shot at the first person who walked out the door. Mo Smith took a bullet in the foot; bullets peppered his car. The next day, Sunday, Shaun and LeDonte Smith connected with Jordan and Martin to settle their account with Seventh and Garfield. Taking weapons, probably from a stash they maintained on Cockrill Avenue, they borrowed a car and set out to wreak havoc in Seventh and Garfield territory. Armed with cheap Chinese semis, .44 magnum revolvers and a shotgun, they took aim at the Seventh Avenue Market, an hour after lunch. They strafed the building with 40 rounds, firing bullets 2 inches long and as thick as a pencil, ammo that would drill like a power tool through the cinderblock.
One shell lodged in a refrigerated display case; another ripped a half-inch hole in a newspaper rack. As many as a dozen shells tore all the way to the back of the store, lodging in the back wall of the men’s room, about a foot from the ceiling. It’s been a month since the investigation, and the police measuring tape is still stuck there. “I’ve been meaning to take it down,” cashier Tim Miller says.
Near the front of the store, one bullet left a hole in a pegboard about a yard from the spot where Miller usually sits. If he had been stationed closer to the middle of the counter when the gunfire started on Dec. 17, he would have taken a slug right in the lungs. One bullet sliced through customer James Robinson’s pants leg. At least one other bullet didn’t encounter any metal, glass or brick. It was fired through the open door, and it tore into Jerimayer Warfield’s ribcage, traveling from the left side of his chest to make a clean exit on his right side. When the shots rang out, Jerimayer may have been holding up his ice cream and taking back his change. The shooting happened in seconds. In all likelihood, Jerimayer didn’t have time to know he had been hit.
There are four or five shootings every night in Nashville, but most are not fatal. Instead, most result in a little damage to some already banged-up propertyanother broken window, another nick in a wall or a sidewalk. According to Vogel, however, the Seventh Avenue incident is simple “wanna-be gangster[ism].” Jerimayer Warfield had not been singled out as a target, that much is for sure. The gunmen may have been aiming for Robinson, Miller or some other regular at the market, but the drive-by shooting was callous and cold-blooded, nonetheless. When the bullets started flying that afternoon, Vogel remembers, time stopped. The door to the market was wide open, and it was through the door that the gunfire was concentrated. The men in the car had to have seen the little boy in front of the counter.
After the hit, the Smiths disappeared, abandoning the Chrysler at 23rd and McKinney, 16 blocks northwest of the murder. Police stopped several cars in the area, but only one witness provided any useful information. He said he had seen four black males bail out of the Chrysler. Their heads were covered, he said; one man seemed to be carrying a shotgun under his coat. The four men were running into the Cumberland View apartments, the Clarksville Highway complex known to police officers as “Dodge City.” Police checked the area but found nothing.
The only solid lead was the car. The Smiths had fled with the guns, but they had left the car littered with spent ammunition, 7.62 and 9 mm shell casings. The empty casings linked the car to the crime, but they didn’t provide the names of the suspects. In three days, however, an investigation of the car’s ownership would yield names. The car had been pawned by its second owner. The pawnbroker was a man named Arnet Hayes. On Sunday morning, Dec. 17, Hayes had loaned the Chrysler to the Smiths.
Hayes is now the key witness against the Smith gang. According to Metro officers, Hayes didn’t know that the Smiths intended to pull a drive-by. Eleam says Hayes was only playing a bit part in the drama, merely stumbling into the rough justice of the neighborhood.
The Smith brothers had told Hayes that their brother, Mo, had been wounded the night before. They had good reason to suspect that the assailants would return to finish the job. Now they wanted to check out an unknown car parked at their house. It was logical, Eleam says, that the Smiths “may have needed to ‘take care of business.’ ” Hayes had no reason to ask why they were armed. He gave them the car. In the juvenile hearing for LeDonte Smith, Hayes testified that he saw the suspects get in the car carrying guns and ski masks.
In the months since the murder of Jerimayer Warfield, Hayes himself has been wounded more than once by snipers. The shootingsone of which took place on New Year’s Evemay have been intended as warnings, or they may have been open retaliation for Hayes’ willingness to cooperate with Metro’s investigation. His assailants may be the suspects who remain at large. Yet Hayes insists that he will continue testifying.
According to Eleam, Hayes is “scared to death.” Still, Eleam says, Hayes doesn’t “think it’s right that a little boy got killed. And he’s one of the few out there that’s got guts to stand up and say it.”
Homicide Detective Grady Eleam is a big man, more than 6 feet tall. He wears a slender silver wedding band and a pair of Masonic rings. He has been in law enforcement for 25 years, 15 of them in homicide. He is serious, but he manages to smile a lot.
Eleam has participated in almost 500 murder investigations and is now one of seven detectives on the Metro Murder Squad. The squad is called the “mystery murder” team because its members are assigned to cases that offer little more than red herrings and cold trails. Eleam and his fellow squad members work out of a small, windowless room on the first floor of police headquarters. Purple-upholstered partitions create narrow office cubicles.
On the afternoon Jerimayer Warfield was murdered, Eleam was at home. He was watching TV when the phone rang with a “10-52, 10-64”somebody shot, somebody dead. He headed for Seventh and Garfield, hoping to beat the crowd to the crime scene. He was too late. “It was a madhouse,” he remembers. “We called for additional patrol cars to seal the area off. We were trying to keep the family back because they wanted to get in there to the little boy, and we had to literally fight the father and the older brother to keep them from going in there and grabbing him.”
According to Vogel, the street was quickly filling with relatives and neighbors; other family members were arriving by car. Claiming they could identify the murderers, people were yelling out names; others were yelling back, “Kill the sons of bitches.” Vogel called for an ambulance and taped off the area. When Eleam arrived, Vogel gave him the details. Eleam put out a call for the Chrysler.
On Jan. 2, Eleam called a press conference at which he displayed photos and discussed some details of the murder, as gleaned from the accounts of Vogel and Hayes and from 17 days of investigation. Meanwhile, investigators were scouring the Smiths’ neighborhood searching for anyone who had seen the suspects. Despite rumors that the foursome had split up, or were as far away as California, the murder squad had trustworthy word from the street that the suspects were still close to Nashville, probably hiding in or near the projects, most likely with family members and girlfriends.
When Eleam went in front of the cameras on that Tuesday, he could offer clear, recent photos of Gary “Psycho” Jordan and Shaun “Fly” Smith. But the shot of LeDonte Smith didn’t look much like him at all; LeDonte was then 17, and Eleam could only show a picture taken when LeDonte was 14. Within 48 hours, however, “family members”detectives won’t be more specificproduced a current photo. The picture hit the streets on Thursday. LeDonte Smith turned himself in the next day, Friday, Jan. 5.
Eleam met him at the information booth at the Metro Police Department. After a hearing, Smith was declared a “danger to society” and was ordered to be held without bond by a juvenile referee. Smith is scheduled for a transfer hearing to the adult system on Jan. 23.
Gary Jordan gave up running on the night of Jan. 8. He turned himself in through his “play daddy,” a neighborhood man who served as his unofficial foster father. He called his play daddy and said he was ready to quit. Jordan’s play daddy called the squad room, and the squad room phoned Eleam at home. The detective met the two men downtown at 1 a.m. They were waiting in the snow.
That was a month ago. Shaun Smith and Joe Martin are still out of sight, but Eleam is convinced that they are still close by. “We haven’t pulled out all the stops yet, but we’re fixing to start,” he said one day last week. That same afternoon, he arrested Virie Ashby, the Smith brothers’ “play momma” who police believe hid the pair for a time after the murder. If convicted, Ashby faces 20 to 30 years in jail.
After two months of investigation, Eleam is prepared to put the squeeze on all the Smiths’ acquaintances in order to draw out the remaining fugitives. “We’re going to have to arrest some of these people and make an example of them. When they see they’ll get 20 years out of it, they’ll turn around in a hurry.”
In the minds of homicide detectives, no murder case is ever really closed. Justice may be done, and there may be a trial, but justice does not bring the victim back. For years, after some cases, detectives stay in touch with the victims’ familiesin some ways, detectives say, families mourn for the rest of their lives. This time, the victim was 12-year-old Jerimayer Warfield. In that way, Eleam says, this murder case is worse than many others.
Eleam is certain that Jerimayer’s murder will be solvedand that it will be solved swiftly now. Asked to estimate how long the investigation will continue, he does not equivocate. “Two weeks,” he says bluntly. He does not mean to let his investigation linger on.
In Tennessee, persons convicted in this sort of murder case can face 60 to 80 years without parole60 to 80 years behind bars, without hope for release. Such a sentence, Eleam says, is in no way exorbitant. An adult who gets into trouble with the law puts himself in line for trouble, Eleam says, but murdered kids are just innocents. “I take that kind of stuff personally.” After 25 years on the job, he says, some questions are never answered. Some mysteries are never solved.
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