Player killed when theft goes wrong

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 3, 2004

CLEVELAND - Three private school high school students, known as band of brothers on the football field, tried to play a different game on a city street. One died. Two lost bright futures.

About 2 a.m. on April 16, the three Benedictine High School athletes drove to a brick-paved road about two miles from school and a block from the home of one teen. They targeted two men who had just pulled to the curb in an older-model Cutlass Oldsmobile.

They thought the driver, 20-year-old Rodney Roberts, might have money and drugs. They also thought Roberts, who had a reputation in the neighborhood as laid-back and quiet, would be an easy target, police told The Plain Dealer for a story on Sunday.

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What happened next, according to law enforcement sources, happened fast:

Roberts had returned from his girlfriend's house and was parking his car outside his house.

Within seconds, Lorenzo Hunter, 16, was at Roberts' side while 18-year-old Raymond Williams went around to the passenger side. Both aimed phony guns, believed to be replicas of 9mm weapons.

Jon Huddleston, 18, was nearby. One demanded cash. Roberts reached into his pocket and threw loose cash out the window. At that moment, the teen football standouts might have walked away untouched, with untarnished reputations.

But Hunter ordered Roberts out of the car, authorities said.

As Roberts got out, he pulled a handgun and fired. Williams and Huddleston took off running, Roberts and his friend left, and Hunter was on the street bleeding, soon to be dead from three gunshot wounds.

Police said the three did not drink or take drugs that night, but were just looking for something to do during their spring break from school. Some suspect the older teens came up with the plan on a whim and Hunter got involved because he idolized them.

"It's ironic. His love for football and his friends may have caused him to make a decision like that," said Melvin Burke, director of a recreation center who saw Hunter compete on the center's team in elementary school.

Within four days, Roberts turned himself in to homicide detectives and is in jail on an aggravated murder charge. Williams and Huddleston were arrested last Monday while in class at Benedictine.

The two are out on bond facing murder and aggravated robbery charges that could bring life sentences.

The school has suspended both indefinitely.

Last week, Huddleston and Williams gave statements admitting culpability.

Pat D'Angelo, Huddleston's lawyer, said he hopes for a fair resolution.

Williams' lawyer, William Dawson, said they had no intention to rob anyone and that it was just a joke that snowballed.

The teens seemed headed in the right direction. Williams, Ohio's Mr. Football, and Huddleston were to graduate May 24. And Hunter was a rising star on the school's championship football team and a solid student.

None had a juvenile record or disciplinary problem, although Williams had academic trouble and had received tutoring. Williams was to attend West Virginia University, but the university has withdrawn its scholarship offer.