By Megha Satyanarayana, Detroit Free Press –
DETROIT — Five Detroit men, including two already on trial, were charged Saturday morning with first-degree murder in the deaths of Ashley Conaway, 22, and Abreeya Brown, 18, of Hamtramck, Mich., two friends who were kidnapped at gunpoint in late February and found dead one month later.
The high-profile deaths, linked to witness statements Conaway made to police with regards to a Feb. 8 shooting, sparked a multi-jurisdictional investigation that led to the arrests of Miguel Rodriguez, 24 and cousins Reginald Brown, 24 and Jeremy Brown, 19. Neither of the suspects is related to victim Abreeya Brown.
In addition, prosecutors added murder charges for Brandon Cain, 26, and Brian Lee, 25.
The two men are already bound over for trial in the Wayne County Circuit Court on charges of shooting at the two women about three weeks before they were kidnapped.
The Brown cousins were scheduled to be arraigned by video by a Romulus judge Saturday. Rodriguez, Cain and Lee are expected to be arraigned on Monday in Hamtramck. Each of the five men faces two counts of first-degree, premeditated murder, two counts of first-degree felony murder, two counts of torture and two counts of unlawful imprisonment. Cain and Reginald Brown also face firearm possession charges, and Cain faces an additional charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
If convicted, the men will each face life in prison without parole.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the case draws attention to the need for better witness protection. Conaway appears to have been targeted for telling police on Feb. 8, while being treated for a gunshot wound, that she was shot at by Lee and Cain.
“This case represents many of our fears when it comes to vital witnesses in a case,” said Worthy in a statement given during a press conference Saturday at Hamtramck City Hall, adding, “more focused attention and resources must go into witness protection.”
Family members were at city hall Saturday, but did not attend the press conference.
According to court testimony and family interviews, it appears that Cain and Conaway had dated, and on Feb. 8, after an evening out that ended at Cain’s house, Cain threatened Conaway as she tried to end the evening. Abreeya Brown had come to take her home. Cain is said to have told a friend to shoot at Brown and the car as they left. One of the bullets fired hit Conaway, and at the hospital, she gave police her witness statement.
Three weeks later, on Feb. 28, Brown’s stepfather said he heard gunshots outside his Hamtramck home and ran outside to find someone dragging Brown away from the house. Major Chatman said he ran back in the house for his gun, and shot at who he said was Cain several times. In the hail of gunfire, the men escaped with the women. Chatman called police.
Within five minutes, his phone rang. It was Brown, telling him that she was in the trunk of the car. The women apparently also sent text messages alerting people to their plight. An initial search failed to find them.
Worthy said police from Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan State Police and the U.S. Marshalls office began to investigate the disappearances. On March 25, a tip led them to the women’s bodies, buried in a shallow grave in Detroit.