August 22, 2007: The Gang-Related Murder of 11-Year-Old Rhys Jones


WHAT HAPPENED?


On August 22, 2007, a Liverpool child was killed at the age of 11 after he was shot in the neck. Sean Mercer, a 16-year-old, went to trial for the child's murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

MURDER


Rhys Jones was the second son of Melanie and Stephen Jones. He had an older brother named Owen. Rhys would have turned 12 a few months after his death, and he was due to start secondary school in September. His former teacher and neighbors remember him as a friendly, popular boy who loved football (American soccer).


Jones played on the Fir Tree Boys football club, and on August 22, 2007, was on his way home fro practice. When he crossed the car park, a hooded young man riding a silver mountain bike approached him, held out a handgun, and fired 3 shots.


When Melanie heard her son had been shot, she rushed to the scene, but by the time she arrived, he was unconscious. Paramedics tried for over 90 minutes to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

THE INVESTIGATION


In the immediate aftermath, detectives arrested 4 people between the ages of 15 and 19 in connection with the murder. 2 additional arrests of teenagers were made, but they were subsequently released. The police appealed to the public for information, needing help to find those involved. The murder weapon was described to the public, a black handgun with a long barrel. More than 300 officers and gun crime specialists hunted for the killer.


Steve and Melanie made an appeal for witnesses to come forward on the 19th of September, 4 weeks after their son's death. Melanie specifically asked for the killer's mother to turn her son in. After the program, 12 people called in, giving the police the same name. The name was widely known, both on the internet and area graffiti, but police continued to appeal for witnesses to come forward.


On April 15, 2008, police confirmed that 11 people had been arrested in connection. Others were arrested and released in the time since the killing.


On December 16, 2008, after a 9-week trial for all of those involved, Sean Mercer, a 18-year-old member of the Croxteth Crew gang, was found guilty of murder. He was 16 at the time he committed the crime. He was ordered to serve at least 22 years.


Other gang members, including James Yates, Nathan Quinn, Boy "M", Boy "K" (both under 18), Gary Kays, and Melvin Coy were convicted of assisting the killer. Kays, Yates and Coy were sentenced to 7 years for their involvement in the crime. Dean Kelly, identified as Boy "K", was sentenced to 4 years, and Quinn was sentenced to 2. A 16-yea-old was sentenced to a 2 year supervision order.


Some parents of the gang members were convicted for perverting the course of justice. Yates' sentence was increased to 12 years after his 7 year sentence was considered "too lenient".


In prison on November 2, 2009, Mercer, Rhys' killer, stabbed Jake Fahri to death after crafting a knife out of tweezers. Fahri had murdered a 16-year-old schoolboy in May of 2008.


As mentioned, Sean Mercer and the others convicted were members of the Croxeth Crew, a criminal gang. The murder was the day before the 1st anniversary of the murder of Liam Smith, a member of a rival gang.


The police stressed that Rhys' murder was not gang-related, and that it was a result of Mercer's failed attempt at shooting a rival gang member. He had accidentally hit Rhys on the way home from practice. However, the existence of these youth gangs, and their murder of an innocent child, left people on edge.

AFTERMATH AND WHERE ARE THEY NOW?


Rhys was a huge fan of the Everton Football Club, and he and his dad and brother had season tickets. The team's players laid out a floral tribute for the child, as well as jerseys, at the scene of the crime. He was remembered in a minute-long silence before a big game a few days after his death. Other football teams paid tribute to him, as well.


Rhys was buried in a private ceremony on September 6, 2007. More than 2,500 people attended his public funeral service before his burial. Mourners were asked to wear bright colors or football stripes in honor of Rhys. The Rhys Jones Memorial Fund was created to fund a new community center near where he died, which opened on August 31, 2013.


In May of 2020, Sean Mercer began working on an appeal for a reduced sentence for the murder. His lawyers plan to argue that, because he was only 16 at the time, his sentence should be reduced. "We're not happy Mercer is doing this," Rhys' father said. He mentioned that some will say Mercer is a changed person, but many of the other gang members who have been released since the crime have continued to get in legal trouble.


Most in Liverpool have agreed with Steve's remarks, calling him "cruel and disgusting" for even trying to get out early. They also believe he hasn't changed, and they won't forget how he treated the Jones family after the crime.


During the investigation and trial, Mercer showed "contempt and general disregard" of Rhys' family. He "swaggered" in court, not caring at all about the young life he had taken. He'd always come in last and lock eyes with the parents before taking his seat. He never showed any respect or remorse. He would laugh and joke with his fellow gang members. He had been annoyed at the trial: "All this over a kid," he said.


In prison, Mercer has written a letter admitting to the murder. He is studying for an Open University degree, cooks his own food, and works out in the gym every day. He wrote in his letter that he "didn't know the little lad had been hit until hours later... it's a shit situation." Oh yeah, for you, man.


Though he tries to claim he is a changed man, he heads up a violent gang in his jail, which oversees the supply of drugs and mobile phones. "Mercer is the drugs kingpin inside Frankland."


The Jones family, as well as most of the public, feel as though Rhys did not get a say in his life sentence at the hands of Mercer, so why should Mercer get to change his? Hearing Mercer's name, thinking of him walking free one day, brings back everything. Melanie rushing to the park to find her son bleeding to death. The parents and Owen finding out that Rhys had died. The horrific hunt for the killer and the trial where that killer laughed his way through. Sure, he was 16 years old... but 16-year-olds know not to murder one another.


Sean Mercer was sentenced to life in prison, though that doesn't exactly mean life. He will serve a minimum of 22 years. In theory, he could get out at the age of 40. At 40, you have a lot of life ahead of you. Way more life than you have when you're shot in the neck innocently walking home from a sports practice at age 11. Any years Mercer gets, behind bars or otherwise, are years Rhys Jones had stripped from him for no reason. His death was "accidental", but no remorse has ever been shown from his killers.


Janette Mercer, Sean's mom, was sentenced to 3 years in jail for perverting the course of justice after lying to detectives about themurder. She tried to cover up a crucial piece of evidence when the police asked about the silver bike Mercer had been driving. She has been released from prison.


James Yates had supplied the gun Mercer used for the murder, and helped him cover his tracks. Steve believes Yates was "the worst of the bunch". He had washed Mercer in petrol to destroy evidence. He also proposed to his girlfriend during the first few days of trial. The only emotion he ever showed during his trial, or during his increased sentencing, was when he found out his parents had been charged.


He was released in 2014 under the condition he went nowhere near where Rhys was killed, but made headlines in 2015 when he tried to convince the government to let him into the neighborhood where the grieving parents lived. He is currently in prison for another crime.


Frank and Marie Yates were jailed for 4.5 years and 18 months respectively for destroying evidence and hiding information from police. They have been released.


Nathan Quinn was jailed for helping Mercer get rid of the murder weapon and clothes. Because he was young, officials hoped he would learn from his experiences. He was released in 2011 and banned from certain areas in Croxteth.


Melvin Coy was jailed for helping Mercer evade justice. He had no previous criminal record at the time. He had alerted Mercer to the rival gang, and after the shooting, drove him away. He was released in 2011, but was back behind bars soon after. He has since been released.


Gary Kays was also involved in the cover-up. He had convinced Mercer to confront the rival gang at the park, and helped drive him around after and burn his clothes. He fathered a child from behind bars and was allowed at his girlfriend's bedside for the birth. Though he was released, he was back behind bars quickly.


Dean Kelly received 4 years for assisting the coverup, and firearms charges. He had hid the murder weapon for him. Once released, he was in custody again quickly. In 2019, he was back in trouble with the law.


Boy M, the unnamed 16-year-old, was charged because the boys had called their house and come by after the killing. He was only sentenced 2 years supervision. His current criminal record is unknown.


Most of these men have gotten out of prison (and went back for unrelated charges). The only one who remains for the death of Rhys Jones is Sean Mercer. Let's keep it that way. Rest in peace, Rhys Jones.

REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Rhys_Jones

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/rhys-jones-killer-sean-mercers-18224387


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