LAWRENCEVILLE — Reco Dehaven West was born into nothing, his father 13 years old and his mother in her 20s. He grew up in foster care in Atlanta’s roughest neighborhood — the Bluff — and, according to a family member, dropped out before he reached high school.
By age 19, he had been arrested at least five times in Fulton County, on charges including aggravated assault, possession of a concealed weapon, burglary and drug possession. He earned the nickname Freaky and lived “wherever he could lay his head.”
“The boy never really had anything,” said Tiffany Dalton, whose ex-husband is West’s biological father.
The boy’s life is now in the hands of a Gwinnett County jury.
Proceedings ended Tuesday afternoon in the trial for West, one of seven men charged in connection with the Nov. 2, 2012, home invasion that resulted in the death of 15-year-old Nick Jackson II. Authorities believe West, now 22 years old, was part of the four-man crew that entered Jackson II’s Norcross home that evening in hopes of finding drugs and cash rumored to be stashed there by the youngster’s father, a now-convicted cocaine trafficker.
Though he is not accused of firing any shots, West is facing one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, and single counts of armed robbery, burglary, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In most cases, he is charged as a party to the crime.
Under Georgia law, every party to a crime may charged with the commission of said crime, even if they didn’t directly commit it.
“Did he help in the slightest way?” Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Mike Morrison asked the jury during his closing argument. “If you determine that he helped in the slightest way, then you are duty-bound to find him guilty.”
The key pieces of evidence against West came in the form of recorded jailhouse phone calls.
In one call, West admitted to being at the scene, using coded language to describe the home invasion, the shooting and Jackson II’s actions. He admitted to having a gun.
In another call, West admitted the ski mask obtained by Norcross police at the time of he and his co-defendants’ arrest was his.
In yet another, the defendant mentioned details that even investigators hadn’t yet discovered.
During his original interrogation with police, West said that he had been riding to the Mall of Georgia to look at shoes, and that he had been smoking marijuana all day and fallen asleep in the vehicle. He said he ran when the van was pulled over — shortly after the crime and just a few blocks from the Jackson home on Autry Street — because he didn’t like police.
Defense attorney John Petrey conceded in his closing argument that his client could reasonably be found guilty as a party to the crimes of burglary and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, but said there was “no way” he was guilty of any of the murder charges.
“How many of these exhibits really point to any responsibility whatsoever on behalf of Mr. West?” Petrey said. “Very, very few have to do with him.”
“No fingerprint evidence connects him to anything,” he added. “… No ballistics link him to anything at all in this case. No DNA links him to anything in this case.”
On Monday, Morrison and Norcross police Investigator Justin Siegel presented evidence that West and a fellow inmate named Cameron Kemp had, over the weekend, contacted Kemp’s mother and asked her to create a Facebook page to contact a juror. The mother, Angella Hodges, admitted in court that she had looked online for the young juror — whom West thought “liked him” — but said she never contacted her.
There was no suspicion of wrongdoing on the juror’s behalf, but she was dismissed from the case. The trial for co-defendant Michael Davis was severed, meaning another jury will hear his case at some point in the future.
Additional charges have now been filed against Kemp, who has been in the Gwinnett County jail since November. Warrants are expected to be issued soon for the arrest of his mother.
“(West is) the type of defendant that, while on trial for the death of an innocent 15-year-old, reaches out to somebody to create a fictitious Facebook account to influence the jury,” Morrison said. “That’s who we’re dealing with here. That’s who Reco West is. That is Freaky.”
If the result of previous trials for his co-defendants is any indication, the odds of West being found guilty are good.
Anthony Lumpkin, the man accused of firing the shot that killed Jackson II, was convicted in November and given two life sentences plus 45 years. Jason Dozier, who fired non-fatal shots during the home invasion, received the same sentence.
Eddie Green, who didn’t enter the house but was instrumental in planning the robbery, received a single life sentence.
Timothy Johnson and Darrez Chandler both entered guilty pleas in exchange for testimony against their co-defendants. Both drove getaway vehicles and helped plan the crime.
Dalton — the unrelated former wife of West’s biological father — said she came to the courthouse Tuesday because West “has absolutely nobody.” She characterized his mother as a drug addict and said that he tried to fall in wherever he could, ultimately winding up with a group of older men up to no good.
“We see too many children that get lost,” Dalton said. “And no one is there to help them.”
Late on Tuesday afternoon, West’s case was handed over to a jury, which will decide if he’s guilty in the murder of a 15-year-old boy from Norcross.
“That young man was Nicholas Jackson,” Morrison said. “A kid doing everything right.”