Cedar Rapids murder victim's family frustrated with lack of progress

Victim's mother points to relatively quick arrest in another murder case

Dozens of people gather at 211 15th Street SE June 29, 2011 to remember the life of Dexter
Dozens of people gather at 211 15th Street SE June 29, 2011 to remember the life of Dexter "Big Ham" Meeks, who was shot and killed Sunday evening. Friends and family said that at least 75 people have showed up at the site each day since Sunday. Policing are still investigating the death. (Jim Malewitz/The Gazette)

The apparent progress in one Cedar Rapids homicide case this week has another victim’s family asking “what about us?”

In the early morning hours of June 26, someone shot Dexter Meeks, 22, near the corner of 15th Street and Second Avenue SE. Meeks died later at a Cedar Rapids hospital and police have made no arrests in the case.  His family is speaking out now after the recent arrest and charges in the November murder of Andre Herron, 30.

Earlier this week, Linn County authorities charged Donovan Ross, 19, of Hiawatha with aiding and abetting and/or committing first-degree murder in Herron's death.  Justin Ross, 18, one of Ross' cousins, was also jailed in the case as a material witness.

Meeks' mother, Rochelle Johnson, said she’s getting frustrated now because the investigation into her son’s death is nearing a six-month anniversary, and they’re concerned investigators are not spending enough time trying to solve their case.

The Meeks family pointed out some of the similarities involving the shooting deaths of Meeks and Herron. Both happened late at night and outside—either on a front porch or out in a street.  There were eyewitnesses in the case of Herron, according to court documents, and Johnson said there may be witnesses to her son's shooting as well.  But the similarity ends when Johnson thinks about the fairly quick police work to find a suspect in Herron’s murder, but nothing yet concerning her son’s killer.

“I cry most every day because my son’s life was taken and the person who did this to him has not been caught, and I feel if he did this to my son he would do this to someone else,” Johnson said.

Johnson and other family members are keeping alive the memory of the man they called “Big Ham” with a wall of photographs and mementos in their home.  The family has moved from the house on 15th Street SE, where the shooting occurred.

Johnson also complained that Cedar Rapids investigators haven’t kept her up to date on any progress.

Sgt. Cristy Hamblin, Cedar Rapids Police Department spokesperson, said that’s a common complaint from victim families—and there is a reason police don’t share everything they know.

“If we tell too many things, we’re not going to be able to hold them (criminals) accountable because they clam up and distort the facts,” Hamblin said, adding that families can let sensitive information slip out even if they don’t mean to.

Sgt. Hamblin and the victim’s mother share one frustration in common.  That’s the difficulty in getting witnesses to step forward and talk to police.

Johnson said she got an anonymous call after her son’s death from someone who told her they saw what happened.  She said the caller promised to go to police, but never did.

The victim’s stepfather, D.J. Masters, said family members are trying to tell people if you want to help us, talk to the police.  “They ought to just step up to the plate, because if they don’t, somebody is going to do it to a member of their family,” he said.

Meanwhile, Meeks’ mother is hoping for progress, but also psychologically ready for the case to remain unsolved after nearly six months.

“In a way, I would be prepared that they never find the person who did this to my son.  But I will go to my grave wondering who that person is,” Johnson said.Cedar Rapids Police said the Meeks case is still active, and investigators check out new leads as they come in.  But unlike the Herron case, they haven’t gotten the kind of break that resulted in charges.

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