When LaTonia Edwards joined friends in Mt. Oliver for a one-year anniversary vigil to remember her slain son, 16-year-old LaRon Benton, who died on his birthday, Dec. 16, 2008, she still believed police had no suspects and had made no arrests—until a reporter asked her for her reaction to the arrest of Benton’s cousin, Dontae Benton, 16, and a friend, 17-year-old Terrin Mangham.
|MOTHER’S LOSS— Surrounded by friends and family, LaTonia Edwards breaks down during an anniversary vigil for her son, LaRon Benton, who was killed in Mt. Oliver, Dec. 16, 2008.
According to a county police affidavit, LaRon, Dontae and Mangham lured drug dealer Ralph Meadows to an abandoned house in an attempt to rob him at gunpoint. There was a struggle during which Meadows managed to grab one of the guns. As he fell to the floor it fired, striking LaRon in the chest.
Investigators determined Meadows acted in self-defense and will not be charged. Dontae and Mangham were charged with attempted robbery and arrested—in June. Edwards was stunned, saying she knew nothing about the arrests.
“To hear this a year later, on the anniversary of his death when they’d done this in June? The police never contacted me. The district attorney never called,” she said. “I wasn’t notified of any hearings—I never heard any of this and I don’t believe it.”
County police did not return calls inquiring about whether or not they contacted Edwards.
Edwards said she had talked to LaRon earlier on the day of his death about celebrating his birthday. She had then taken LaRon’s older brother to Brashear High School for a meeting about the Pittsburgh Promise. When she came out she was told LaRon had been shot.
“When I got to the scene the officer there didn’t know who I was and just said, ‘that boy there is gone,’” she said. “I’m thinking please don’t be my son. So I called his cell phone, and I heard it ringing in his pocket. After that I just lost it.”
County homicide detectives used LaRon’s cell phone to find Meadows and interviewed him June 4. He told police that LaRon called him to buy marijuana. When Meadows came to the house in the 500 block of Brownsville Road, he said a Black male pointed a shotgun at him.
Meadows said he grabbed the shotgun’s barrel and pushed it down to the floor. He struggled with both the gunman and LaRon and someone hit him in the head with the shotgun. He said he tried to go out the front door, but it was locked.
Then, he said, another person with a pistol joined the struggle. Meadows said he managed to grab the gun, but LaRon kept holding on. Meadows fell, and when he hit the floor, the gun fired.
“I don’t believe the police account at all,” said Edwards. “My son’s not here to defend himself. And how does a drug dealer shoot someone while committing a crime and not get charged? I’m looking for an attorney to see if I can go after him for wrongful death.”
Dontae and Mangham have been charged as adults and are awaiting trial on charges of aggravated assault, robbery and criminal conspiracy.
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