×

Man sentenced to life in prison for convenience store homicide

Jury: Guilty on 11 counts

Ikeem Fogan, 23, of Williamsport will spend the rest of his life in state prison for a conviction of criminal homicide in the August 2019 slaying of Rhonda McPeak in the Newberry Uni-Mart.

Fogan was also found guilty of 10 other counts related to the robbery and wounding of JoBeth Wetzel, the clerk at the Uni-Mart the night of the robbery.

In addition to the two minimum life sentences he received, which will run concurrent to sentences for other crimes, Fogan will pay $7,000 in restitution to McPeak’s daughter to cover the costs of the funeral.

The night of Aug. 4, 2019, the jury ruled that Fogan entered the Uni-Mart, fired one bullet into Wetzel’s shoulder and fired another into McPeak, who died on the scene. Wetzel testified last we she has still not returned to a normal life since the incident.

“I’m always saddened by the finality of it,” Martin Wade, the first assistant district attorney, said. “It is a waste of human life.”

Nicole Spring, chief public defender, held a saddened look on her face from the time the jury announced its verdict through the sentencing, which immediately followed the trial’s verdict.

“He was such a sweetheart,” Spring said.

While count 7, possession of a weapon, was dismissed mid-trial, the rest of the counts returned as “guilty:” Criminal homicide, criminal attempt of criminal homicide, robbery–inflicting serious bodily injury, aggravated assault, firearms not to be carried without a license, unlawful restraint/serious bodily injury, conspiracy of robbery–inflicting serious bodily injury, conspiracy of robbery–threat of immediate serious injury, aggravated assault, attempts to cause serious bodily injury or causes injury with extreme indifference.

In her closing statements, Spring raised several questions about holes in the prosecution she felt would raise a shadow of doubt within the jury.

“These questions don’t need answered. The fact there is a question is a reasonable doubt,” Spring said.

Spring began her closing statements by mentioning discrepancies between Fogan’s complexion and the complexion of the shooter according to testimony at the case’s preliminary hearing.

Initially, Wetzel testified the robber as Black or mixed race, with “light skin”, Spring said.

She also highlighted Sean Forker’s testimony of seeing a man in his underwear and “timberlake boots.” Although Forker said he could have been mistaken, Spring said the description of the boots seems oddly specific.

Spring also referred to Michael Belemonti’s testimony, who said he interacted with a man who visited the parking lot outside his home the morning after the shooting.

When the two spoke, the visitor, who was Black, said, “It’s not what you think” as he held a rectangle-shaped box in his pocket, Belemonti said.

Spring told the jury to keep in mind what was going on in the greater cultural context during 2019, when the shooting occurred.

“Does it seem odd a younger Black man confronted by an older white man needed to say ‘It’s not what you think’?” Spring said.

Spring also encouraged the jury to view the testimony of Noah Stroup, an alleged accomplice in the robbery, with suspicion, given the fact he hid from the police and lied to them.

“Once Fogan’s case is over, [Stroup] can plead to a deal that won’t give him the life sentence,” Spring said.

Spring also called into question the identity of “Rockout,” whom she said Stroup planned a robbery with.

Wade’s closing statement focused on the text messages between Fogan and Stroup’s phone, which he said were self-incriminating to the nature of Fogan’s involvement in the robbery that occurred.

“They’re better than a confession — these are a private conversation,” Wade said. “Fogan picked the location, asked for gloves and coordinated a pickup time and location. They verify Stroup’s story. They make it impossible Ikeem Fogan was not involved.”

Everything else reviewed in the case is extra proof, Wade said. He said the clothes worn by the shooter were found separated in the woods near the Uni-Mart, and that three of the four items had Fogan’s DNA on them.

“If he was not the shooter, his DNA should not be on any items. You would expect to see [the shooter] shirtless and pantless,” Wade said.

Wade referenced video surveillance submitted as evidence showing Fogan on a nearby porch undressed. He said there is no reason for someone to be walking around without clothes on in the area of a shooting.

According to Wade, Fogan’s statements on his first call out of prison also read like an admission of guilt. Wade said Fogan identified himself as the man who was not wearing clothes.

“It’s sad it had to come down to this,” Fogan said on the phone call. “It’s not against the law to run around without a shirt.”

Wade also said the gunshot residue found on Fogan’s clothes was also suspicious, and referenced prior testimony in saying that the average person should not have gunshot residue on their hands.

Wade also combated Spring’s questioning of the accuracy of Stroup’s testimony, saying that Stroup only sought less than a life sentence.

“To say he got a sweet deal is exaggerated,” Wade said.

Monday’s court proceedings opened with testimony from Joe Kukosky, a forensic DNA specialist at the state DNA Crime Lab. Kukosky explained the results of DNA reports on samples obtained from evidence in the case.

DNA samples inside the toe of the right white sneaker recovered months after the shooting did point toward Fogan having worn them.

“It is more likely than not to originate from Fogan and an unrelated person than two unrelated people,” he said.

Kukowsky said the brown sweatshirt returned positive results for having Fogan’s DNA on it.

He also noted the name “Janil Hines” as a potential match to DNA on the sweatpants, and identified him as an investigative lead.

DNA samples inside the toe of the right white sneaker recovered months after the shooting did, however, point toward Fogan as wearing them.

“It is more likely than not to originate from Fogan and an unrelated person than two unrelated people,” he said.

Spring called two witnesses to testify in the trial Monday morning.

Allison Laneve, a department manager from the RJ Lee Group, testified regarding the presence of gunshot residue on the right sleeve of the brown jacket, the waistband of the black pants

On March 6 of 2020, RJ Lee tested the brown sweatshirt, the two latex gloves and the blue bracelet. Of that group, the latex gloves showed two of the three elements characteristic of gunshot residue.

Additionally, RJ Lee Group found traces of gunshot residue inside the front pocket of the hooded sweatshirt Fogan was wearing when he was arrested, as well as in the right pocket of black pants in tests performed May 22.

Laneve said the only reason why two of the three characteristic components of gunshot residue would appear on someone’s clothes would be if they fired a gun, handled a gun or were around a gun when it was fired by someone else.

The last witness to testify in the case was detective William Weber, who works for the district attorney’s office. He told the jury that while transporting Stroup from the Clinton County prison to the Tioga County prison, Stroup said he would be looking to make a deal with authorities.

Weber said he told Stroup he needed to speak with his attorney, who could then reach out to the district attorney regarding a deal. .

Stroup also said he did not understand why he was being arrested if he didn’t kill McPeak, according to Weber.

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *
   

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today