Prosecutors: Murder mastermind laughs when hearing hit was carried out

Police say man facing burglary trial recruited brother to kill witness

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man accused of orchestrating the murder of a witness in his burglary trial can be heard in a jailhouse phone call putting a hit on the witness and, another call, laughing after the deed was done, according to the state attorney's office. 

In six approximately 15-minute phone calls played at a court hearing Friday, Jecorian McCray can be heard asking family and friends to kill longtime University of North Florida employee Jonathan Brenton, prosecutors said. 

"I'll see y'all tomorrow. Make sure the job is done, you hear me? Love you," said a man, who prosecutors say is McCray, in one of the phone conversations.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said Brenton, 48, was found dead at his home on VC Johnson Road early Sept. 21. Later that same day, Brenton was due to testify at the trial of McCray, who is accused of burglarizing the Brenton home, according to court records. 

Detectives investigating Brenton's homicide listened to jail recordings of McCray talking on the phone with his 17-year-old brother, Dakarai Maxwell, and heard them talking about getting McCray's 21-year-old girlfriend, Teirany Shelton, to visit the Brentons and ask Jonathan Brenton to take back his statements about the burglary because McCray was "looking at 30 years."

When he learned the bribery hadn't worked, McCray told Maxwell that he needed to kill Brenton and walked him through the step-by-step process of how to kill him, according to police. 

"So you know what to do? 'This is such and such from Jacksonville.' You feel me? 'We are here to question you.' Then -- boom, boom, boom, boom,"  the voice said in a phone call. "Don't panic. That's the only thing. Like today, plot, plan, strategize. Don't panic, you feel me?"

McCray, 23, was facing a long sentence if convicted in the burglary trial because of a notice filed by prosecutors this week, saying he was a habitual offender.

On the tapes, prosecutors said, he's heard begging for help, saying, "I swear to God, I owe you my life ... Don't let those crackers show up," and "Deadline is Wednesday."

Acting on information in those recordings, police obtained arrest warrants charging McCray and Maxwell with murder, 19-year-old Demetris Ford with criminal conspiracy and Shelton with tampering with a witness. 

A jury for McCray's burglary trial was seated Monday, but after Brenton's slaying, the trial was postponed until 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Prosecutors said home surveillance video showed McCray and Maxwell, who were acquaintances of Brenton's daughter, inside in the home on Jan. 29. According to the police report, jewelry, checks and prescription painkillers were taken in the burglary.

Gene Nichols, an attorney unaffiliated with the case, explained what could happen next week. 

"I'm not going to say they will try the case. They (prosecutors) already have good evidence, evidence that it's just going to make it incredibly difficult for (a) verdict anything other than guilty because of those tapes. They're just going to sit back and they also are hoping and working to make sure that any decisions are made by the court or cleanly done so it doesn't come back on appeal," Nichols said. 

Though there will be questions raised about whether the jury is tainted in the burglary case by the new evidence presented Friday, Nichols said that may not matter.

"He did something so egregious, allegedly, that he caused his own taint. So for those reasons, while that is an issue, it's probably going to be an issue that would bring the case back," Nichols said. 

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith agreed, saying he recorded audio from the jail is a slam dunk for the prosecution. 

"The audio tapes almost seal the deal. I'm sure they had strong evidence prior because he was supposed to testify," Smith said.

McCray is being held at the Duval County Jail without bond.

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