CLEVELAND – Even by tough, urban crime standards it was a grisly attack: Up to 15 people chased a man, then kicked and beat him to death on the street. Before police arrived, one attacker urinated on the victim's head.
By the time Charles Gooden Jr., 41, took his final steps, the crime-hardened neighborhood had awakened and two people, talking in matter-of-fact tones, reported a man down, his clothes being dragged off.
"You got a male being assaulted by 15 other guys. He's laying on the street," one 911 caller said.
It happened before dawn on April 27 on a street within a 10-minute drive of the city's skyscrapers, sports venues and tourist attractions, but across a chasm of poverty and crime in the most murder-ridden neighborhood in one of America's poorest cities.
Latangia Anderson, 23, Johnny Brown, 20, and Paris Moore, 19, all of Cleveland, have been charged with aggravated murder and each pleaded not guilty Monday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Bond was set at $1 million for each.
The defendants said they were unable to afford an attorney and had lawyers appointed to represent them. The attorneys said they couldn't comment on the case.
Police expect more arrests.
It wasn't always dangerous along East 117th Street, where the tulips bloom late because of the cool winds off Lake Erie, one mile north.
"It used to be so quiet and we were so blessed to live on 117th Street," said Irene Bennett, 78. She has lived there 40 years and, used to gunfire and loud outbursts at night, slept through the commotion of Gooden's slaying on the next-door sidewalk.
She had hoped she and her husband, now 86, would enjoy the simple things in life in their retirement: watching people pass by and planting flowers around their neatly kept home anchored by a wide porch.
"You pay for your home, you work hard, you retire and you want to enjoy, just come out on your porch and enjoy, wait for the summertime to come and sit and enjoy," she said, shaking her head lightly at the bygone dream.
The attackers sent word that anyone helping police could face retribution, according to City Councilman Kevin Conwell, who called them gang members. Like most council members, Conwell keeps in touch with police commanders, especially on high-profile crimes that worry residents.
Police haven't mentioned a motive. Conwell said it involved an argument involving a woman and a threat by her cousin against Gooden.
"He went to defend his malehood honor. He hit the cousin in the mouth. When that happened the other gang members jumped on him," said Conwell, relying on information from police and neighbors.
After the attack, bloggers condemned senseless inner-city crime. A sidewalk candle vigil was held and a memorial of stuffed animals emerged outside the Bennett house because the slaying scene doesn't have a tree to anchor the display.
The display has dwindled, according to Bennett, but still has a stuffed dog with the label "Puppy love" and another with the Gooden's nickname, Bud, written repeatedly on it.
Bennett knew Gooden as a youngster from his visits to an uncle down the street in a house now boarded up.
Poverty and drugs have left many houses in the neighborhood dilapidated. There are a few newly renovated homes and two newer ones, one with barred windows. The once-lively commercial district around the corner is made up of mostly closed stores interrupted occasionally by a barbershop or storefront church.
The neighborhood is Cleveland's murder capital, according to police spokesman Lt. Thomas Stacho, and outsiders driving the streets risk getting pegged as people looking to buy crack cocaine.
Still, Gooden's death tugged at sensibilities, including the 911 callers.
"They're stomping somebody and ripping their clothes off. You need to come," another caller said. "Like 15 of them beating the hell out of him."
The emergency dispatcher asked if an ambulance should be sent. "You better bring a stretcher, too," the caller replied. "Please hurry."