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Family, friends of Derontae Martin to hold rally

St. Louis rally to be held at Kiener Plaza at 2 p.m. on Sunday

The family and friends of Derontae Martin — the black 19-year-old Central High School graduate whose April 2021 death in an admitted racist’s Fredericktown house sparked intense questions and demonstrations — are now calling on federal law enforcement authorities to step in and investigate.

Central defensive lineman Derontae Martin (28) paces along the sideline during a game against Farmington on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, in Park Hills. He would be dead less than two years later.

To bring attention to the case, a rally has been planned at Kiener Plaza in St. Louis at 2 p.m. Sunday — the two-year anniversary of the jury’s decision that Martin’s death was under violent circumstances, not necessarily suicide-by-gunshot as authorities initially ruled.

“It’s made me feel upset with our justice system and the fact that the system is upholding injustice,” said Kimberly Lotts, Martin’s grandmother, in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A coroner’s inquest was held July 30, 2021, at the Madison County Courthouse, where it took a jury just over two hours of deliberation to find that the April 2021 death of 19-year-old Derontae Martin was a result of violence.

At approximately 3:01 a.m. April 25, Madison County Dispatch received a 911 call from a residence on Route Z regarding a male who had been shot in the head and was not conscious.

When emergency personnel arrived on the scene, Martin was located in the attic area of the residence and was found to be deceased. A birthday party had taken place at the home, and some of the people who were at the gathering told police that Martin had shot himself.

Martin’s death was initially ruled as a suicide. After numerous concerns were raised by the man’s family and community members, a coroner’s inquest was scheduled to review all available evidence and witness testimony, allowing a six-person jury to determine Martin’s cause of death.

In reaching a decision, the jury had to decide between four options: that Martin’s death was the result of either violence, suicide, accident, or natural causes.

Jury members listened and took notes as Madison County Prosecutor M. Dwight Robbins called witnesses and presented the evidence.

The inquest hearing was presided over by Madison County Coroner Collin Follis, while Robbins called nearly 20 witnesses and presented several pieces of evidence, including the pistol recovered from the scene and autopsy photos.

Pathologist Dr. Russell Deidiker was the first witness called to testify. He performed the autopsy on Martin following his death.

Deidiker testified that Martin had died of a gunshot wound to his left temple. A photo of the lethal wound was shown, depicting a one-centimeter entrance wound. The pathologist noted a three-centimeter ring of dark-colored soot around the entrance wound and explained that a soot ring of that diameter indicated the gun was fired at near contact with Martin’s head.

Family members and friends stand outside the Madison County Courthouse in July 2021.

Robbins asked Deidiker about the results of a second autopsy, which was commissioned by Martin’s family and indicated the gun had been fired from a different range. Deidiker said the second autopsy had been performed after Martin’s body had already been cleaned and prepared. Because of this, the pathologist said it didn’t change his opinion.

Martin’s toxicology results were reviewed, showing the man had 650 ng/ml of meth, which Deidiker said was in the toxic range and could cause irrational thinking. The results also showed THC metabolites.

Robbins asked Deidiker if any other injuries were found during the autopsy, and the doctor noted that Martin’s right hand was in a cast due to a previous, unrelated injury.

Madison County Deputy Nicholas Adams took the stand and testified about what he saw as one of the first on the scene. He recalled arriving at the one-and-a-half-story brick house where a man was sitting in a truck near the garage. The deputy entered the home through the home’s rear entrance and was met by the homeowner, James Wade, who advised him of Martin’s location in the attic.

Adams said he had to move some clutter to get to Martin’s body, which was in a narrow space in the attic, facing up with his head tilted back. The deputy located an Accu-Tek .380 cal. pistol next to Martin’s head lying in a pool of blood, with the muzzle of the gun facing the man’s head. Adams said he immediately secured the weapon.

The gun was later brought to the witness stand by another deputy, who testified that it had blood on the side of its slide. A residue test was performed on Martin’s left hand and showed substances including lead and barium were detected, which the deputy said indicated that a gun was fired at close range.

The jury heard from other witnesses and written statements from people who attended the birthday party held for James Wade’s 18-year-old daughter, Lani Wade. Several had similar accounts of seeing Martin that night, describing his behavior as paranoid or acting strange. According to one written statement, before the party, the witness recalled Martin repeatedly saying, “I can’t do this.”

Another witness statement alleged that three people, including James Wade, had murdered Martin. Deputy Adams said the allegation was not supported by any evidence.

Kari Wade, daughter of James Wade, testified she was in and out of her dad’s house the night of the party, checking on her sister. She said she saw Martin hanging out with Zachary Graham and Cody Gideon. The woman said later, Martin had gone upstairs, and at one point, someone told her to be careful because some guy was passed out in the closet, referring to Martin. She said someone also told her Martin had a gun.

Another witness, Nathan Glover, had been in and out of the house with Kari Wade that night. Glover testified that he looked into the attic and saw Martin with a gun. He said Graham and Gideon were talking to Martin for a short time, telling him not to hurt himself.

Graham took the stand and testified that Martin seemed normal earlier in the night. Graham, who reportedly lives at the Wade residence, said Martin began acting scared that a specific person would show up at the house.

Graham said he later saw Martin laying down with the gun to his head. He said he asked Martin why he had the gun to his head, but Martin didn’t say anything. Graham said he left the house after witnessing Martin shoot himself.

Michael Vaughn was at the party and testified that around 3 a.m., he heard a gunshot while he was sitting on the couch next to James Wade.

After he heard the gunshot, he said, “they came down and said he shot himself, and we all left.”

Robbins called Phillip Lawler to the stand, who stated that sometime after the night of Martin’s death, he spoke to James Wade at Walmart. Lawler said James made remarks about disliking Black people, using racial slurs, and told Lawler that “he did it,” referring to shooting Martin.

Lawler testified that James said, “murder is the easiest thing to get away with.”

James Wade then took the stand. He admitted to using the racial slurs but denied saying he shot Martin. He said he was asking Lawler for help in case a protest planned near his house got violent. He also admitted to telling Lawler that he “could have shot him (Martin) and got less heat from his people than I’m getting for trying to help…”

James testified that he got to his house the night of his daughter’s birthday party about 20 minutes before hearing the gunshot.

Toward the end of the witness testimonies, three investigators with the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control testified about the investigation.

Trooper Shannon Sitton had interviewed Gideon, who reportedly told him that he had given Martin the gun at the party to feel safe. Gideon told investigators that he attempted to talk to Martin that night when Martin was in the attic but was unsuccessful, so he got Graham to help.

Gideon was subpoenaed to testify at Friday’s inquest but did not show up.

On the stand, Master Sergeant JS Stoetling was asked about the results of a polygraph test given to James by another trooper. He said James was asked numerous questions, including whether or not he shot Martin, to which he said no. Stoetling said the results were that James’ answers were “nondeceptive in nature.”

Stoeltling further testified that the scene of Martin’s death was consistent with suicide, and there was nothing found that would indicate anyone else had shot the man.

Morgan Reeder was the last witness to testify. She said she arrived at the party after leaving work at 10 p.m. She said she was sitting on a bed talking to Bobbie Boone when Martin came into the room and yelled at Boone, saying, “You set me up,” before leaving the room quickly.

Reeder was asked about comments her brother, Blake, made regarding his thoughts on what happened to Martin. Reeder said her brother believed Graham had shot Martin for “snitching” about a previous incident that reportedly took place at the house a few weeks earlier.

The evidence portion of the inquest ended at 11:15 a.m., and the jury began deliberation. While deliberating, the jurors asked to hear the 911 call. The jury returned at 1:23 p.m. with their verdict; the cause of death was violence, not suicide.

Robbins declined requests for comment after the inquiry was adjourned.

Derontae Martin’s grandmother, Kimberly Lotts, claps her hands in the Madison County Courthouse hall after learning the inquest jury’s verdict in July 2021.

Martin’s mother and grandmother were overjoyed with the jury’s decision. The man’s mother, Ericka Lotts, danced in the courthouse hall, shouting praise to God, before briefly collapsing in a chair and crying heavily.

Kimberly Lotts, Martin’s grandmother, said she was thankful for the outcome but acknowledged that much work still needed to be done to bring those responsible for Martin’s death to justice.

“I am happy,” Lotts exclaimed. “I am happy that somebody else saw. Glory to God. I could just shout. But we got a long way to go, so we’ll just keep on praying and keep on trusting in the Lord.”

Two years later, the family and friends of Martin are working hard to convince the Department of Justice to pursue the case as a hate crime. Martin’s mother, Ericka Lotts, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch they won’t rest until Martin’s killer pays for what they say was his murder.

“He deserves it. He wasn’t a throwaway dog. He had a bright future that was stolen,” Lotts, told the St. Louis daily newspaper.