Kettering deadly shooting victim’s mother finds relief after 4-year court ordeal

KETTERING — Jessica Combs talks of relief that her oldest son’s killer will stay in prison. She also speaks about trauma from the four-year judicial ordeal.

And Combs is proud that her younger son has been a bright spot in her life, easing the burden while she and others have sought justice in Ronnie Bowers’ 2016 shooting death, a case that “has been hell on our family,” she said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News.

The case may have reached a conclusion. A judge’s decision impacting Kylen Gregory’s eight-year prison term for killing Bowers - when both were 16 - will stand, a Dayton appeals court ruled earlier this month.

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

“I’m relieved that the appeal is affirmed and that I don’t have to worry about it,” Combs said. “I’m still – to this day – upset at what a light sentence he got. There’s nothing I can do about that.”

The attorney for the now 20-year-old Gregory – who faced up to 41 years on the counts for which he was convicted - has said he will remain as counsel but has no plans to challenge the appeals court ruling.

Dealing with ‘three trials’

The case that was Kettering’s first gun-related homicide since 2007 went through three courts – sometimes going back and forth - and was stalled by Ohio Supreme Court action.

Throughout, Combs was a courtroom fixture for the trials that followed the Labor Day weekend shooting on Willowdale Avenue.

“It did take forever,” Combs said. “It’s been four years. Sometimes it feels like it’s been 40 years. Sometimes it feels like it’s only been four days.

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

“But every day when I wake up, Ronnie is still gone,” she said. “Every day when I go to bed, Ronnie is still gone. No time is going to help that.

“And being in court that many times for that long is very traumatizing,” Combs added.

Gregory is likely the only Montgomery County juvenile case in recent years to go to adult court, return to juvenile and then go back to adult, court Administrator Eric Shafer said.

It took that path “only because of the change in the supreme court’s opinion” in a case impacting the process for Gregory, Shafer said.

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Bowers and Gregory did not know each – although both attended Fairmont High School – when the shooting occurred. They were with separate groups involved in a dispute and witnesses called Bowers an innocent bystander who started to drive away from the confrontation.

Layers of trauma

Gregory testified at trial that he stood in the street, pulled a stolen, loaded handgun, aimed it at the trunk of Bowers’ car and fired a shot to make “a statement.”

Gregory was later arrested and put in juvenile detention on $1 million bond. He has been in custody since shortly after the shooting.

Authorities said the bullet hit Bowers in the back of the head and led to his death two days later.

Combs said “to lose someone and have it be your child – and the age and the manner of how he died with it being suddenly, violently, and all of the court stuff that came with it. That is layer on top of layer on top of layer of trauma.”

Gregory faced multiple charges, the most serious of which were murder with gun specifications, counts that eventually moved the case from juvenile to adult court.

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

Two supreme court rulings helped slow the case and Gregory went on trial in adult court in November 2018.

He was convicted by a jury of reckless homicide and a related charge. Facing a retrial on felonious assault charges on which the jury could not decide, Gregory pleaded guilty those counts in the spring of 2019 in exchange for a lighter punishment.

Sentenced by now-retired Judge Dennis Langer, he received 11 years minus time served, which Combs called “a slap on the wrist and a slap in our face.”

Because Gregory was not convicted of murder – the charge that sent the case to adult court - the sentence was stayed pending a juvenile court hearing.

Grateful for second son

Last year Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi ruled Gregory was not amenable to rehabilitation in that system. Had Gregory’s case stayed in juvenile court, he would have been freed on his 21st birthday next March, court officials said.

It was Capizzi’s ruling that the appeals court affirmed earlier this month.

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How the case moved from juvenile to adult court and back again took a toll, Combs said.

“It’s like reliving it all over again,” she said. “And it’s hard to do that. But I did not want Ronnie to not be represented. That’s why I always went and that’s why my family and my close friends always went. Because we wanted Ronnie to feel represented.

“So as hard as it was to hear that same awful stuff over and over again, I did it for Ronnie,” she added.

Combs is grateful for how her younger son – now 16 himself - has adapted in the wake of his older brother’s death.

“I’m glad I got him into counseling right away. He has thrived. He’s a straight A student,” she said.

“He’s a healthy kid. He’s a well-mannered kid. He’s a great kid. And I know that he could have gone one of two ways,” Combs added. “He could have ended up a little punk - to be quite honest with you - with what happened to Ronnie. He could have went south.”

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He “was 12 when Ronnie was murdered,” she said. “And that’s a rare thing for a 12-year-old to have to go through.

“I’m really proud of him for that,” Combs added. “And I’m really grateful that I have him because without him, I don’t know if I would be here. I don’t know if I would be alive without my other son.”

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