Image: Charles Gooden Jr.
AP
Charles Gooden Jr.'s attackers sent word that anyone helping police could face retribution, according to City Councilman Kevin Conwell. He described the assailants as gang members.
updated 5/12/2008 6:31:31 PM ET 2008-05-12T22:31:31

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.

When the crime-hardened neighborhood awoke later that morning, two people reported a man lying on the pavement, his clothes being dragged off by his assailants.

"You got a male being assaulted by 15 other guys. He's laying on the street," one 911 caller said.

The April 27 attack on Charles Gooden Jr. happened in the most murder-ridden neighborhood in one of the nation's poorest cities. But it was also within a 10-minute drive of the city's skyscrapers, sports venues and tourist attractions.

Three suspects have been charged with aggravated murder. Police have not mentioned a motive, but they expect more arrests.

Neighborhood wasn't always violent
It wasn't always dangerous along East 117th Street, where the tulips bloom late because of the cool winds blowing off Lake Erie just a mile to the north.

"It used to be so quiet, and we were so blessed to live on 117th Street," said Irene Bennett, 78, who has lived there for 40 years. She is so used to gunfire and loud outbursts at night that she slept through the commotion of Gooden's slaying.

In retirement, she and her husband had hoped to enjoy simple pleasures: watching people pass by and planting flowers around their neatly kept home. But the violence in the neighborhood makes that impossible.

"You pay for your home. You work hard. You retire, and you want to enjoy, just come out on your porch and ... wait for the summertime to come," she said, shaking her head.

The attackers sent word that anyone helping police could face retribution, according to City Councilman Kevin Conwell. He described the assailants as gang members.

Conwell said the motive was based on an argument involving a woman and a threat by her cousin against Gooden, 41.

"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.

Charged in the slaying were Latangia Anderson, 23, Johnny Brown, 20, and Paris Moore, 19, all of Cleveland. They were each jailed on $1 million bond.

None of the three defendants was able to afford an attorney. The lawyers appointed to represent them all said they could not comment on the case.

Cleveland's murder capital
After the attack, a memorial of stuffed animals took shape outside the Bennett house because the slaying scene doesn't have a tree to anchor the display.

The display has dwindled but still has a stuffed dog with the label "Puppy love" and another with Gooden's nickname, Bud, written on it, according to Bennett, who knew Gooden when he was a youngster visiting an uncle down the street.

The uncle's house is now boarded up, along with many other neighborhood homes left dilapidated by poverty and drugs. There are a few newly renovated homes and two newer ones, one with barred windows. But in the once-lively commercial district around the corner, most stores are closed, except for a few barbershops or storefront churches.

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 unnerved people here, 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."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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