LIMA — Two witnesses, each dressed in prison garb, testified in a Lima courtroom on Wednesday that they watched as Chaz “Chitty” Jackson gunned down Ryan VanBuskirk in cold blood on a November night in 2016.
Melissa Ream, an admitted crack cocaine addict at the time, and her one-time dealer, Rione Gray, each told jurors that Jackson shot and killed the Wapakoneta man as he stood alongside his car on Lima’s Catalpa Street on Nov. 16, 2016.
Ream said she had accompanied VanBuskirk that night at the urging of her former boyfriend, Terry Volbert, who had arranged a drug deal for VanBuskirk to purchase pills from Gray — known on the street as “St. Louis” or “St. Lou.”
Gray testified that Jackson accompanied him to the corner of Catalpa Street and St. Johns Avenue for the drug transaction.
He told jurors that Jackson, unexpectedly and inexplicably, fired the single shot to the chest that killed VanBuskirk.
Upon cross-examination by Jackson’s attorney, Anthony Vannoy, Gray admitted he signed a notarized document in 2018 that Jackson was not the shooter. The document was signed while Gray was in prison after pleading guilty to a third-degree felony charge of involuntary manslaughter for his role in VanBurskirk’s death.
During his testimony Wednesday, Gray said he signed the paper because Jackson’s mother had paid him “a couple hundred dollars” to do so. The statement he signed was a lie, Gray told jurors.
Ream, serving prison time for an unrelated robbery, testified that she was standing across the street from VanBuskirk’s car when the Wapakoneta man was shot. She had accompanied VanBuskirk to the Catalpa Street location but had been “ordered out of the car by Chitty (Jackson) because he said he didn’t do business in front of females.”
After the shot was fired, Ream said she “took off running” back to the Albert Street address she shared with Volbert.
Steve Stechschulte, a detective with the Lima Police Department, testified that early in his investigation he learned Jackson and Gray each had left the Lima area. Gray was found in 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri, and nearly two years after the shooting Jackson was located following a traffic stop in Huntsville, Alabama.
After the state wrapped up its portion of the case Wednesday afternoon, Jackson took the stand in his own defense.
“Did you shoot Mr. VanBuskirk?” Vannoy asked his client.
“I did not,” Jackson replied.
The Lima man said he fled to Alabama after the shooting “because Stechschulte about a month earlier had me in jail on a crime I didn’t commit and I knew he’d have me in jail again for a murder I didn’t commit.”
The only other witness called by the defense was Jackson’s former girlfriend.
Keiona Petaway said Jackson was at his home on East Third Street with her and his siblings playing video games on the night VanBuskirk was shot. Petaway also said she learned on Facebook that Jackson was a suspect in VanBuskirk’s shooting but did not call police to confirm his alibi “because I don’t trust cops; I don’t talk to them and I just stay out of their way.”
Jackson, 24, was indicted in June 2017 by an Allen County grand jury on charges of murder, an unclassified felony; involuntary manslaughter, a felony of the first degree; and aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, in connection with VanBuskirk’s death. Two of the charges against Jackson include specifications that a firearm was used during the commission of the crime.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Thursday.