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'No one's supposed to die at 24:' Trial begins in Harrisburg slaying of Rayon Braxton

Moments before the trial over his murder began Monday, family and friends of Rayon Braxton gathered outside the Dauphin County courtroom.

They stood in a circle and held hands. Then, they bowed their heads and prayed.

“We just pray that justice is served,” said Braxton’s sister, Saliyna Chapman. “No one’s supposed to die at 24.”

A few minutes later, Jerren Stuckey, the 26-year-old Susquehanna Township man accused of killing Braxton, walked into the courtroom, smiling broadly at his own family.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Johnny Baer is seeking a first-degree murder verdict and a life prison sentence for Stuckey. In his opening statement, Baer claimed Stuckey gunned down Braxton on Nov. 27, 2015 over an unpaid debt.

“Rayon Braxton is dead today because he owed this guy money,” the prosecutor said, pointing to where Stuckey sat beside defense attorney George Matangos. “This case is that simple.”

Investigators claim Stuckey shot Braxton outside Braxton’s office on the third floor of the Big Ugly Warehouse building in the 300 block of Carlisle Street in Harrisburg’s Allison Hill section. Braxton was staging parties there through a business he called Braxton Hall. He had rented it with the hope of creating a youth center and after-school program.

“He wanted it to be a beacon of hope for the community. Something to hold onto in a rough neighborhood,” Baer said of Braxton’s vision. Yet, he said, Braxton turned to staging parties when money became tight and he fell behind on his rent.

On the night of Braxton’s murder, only one person, Stuckey, was seen leaving the building, which has only a single entry and exit from Braxton Hall, Baer said. Two witnesses will attest to that fact as the trial proceeds in Judge John F. Cherry’s courtroom, the prosecutor said.

There is no doubt the killing was intentional, he said.

“Rayon was found lying face-down outside his office,” Baer said. “He was shot seven times. In the head, chest, back, pretty much all over his body.”

A sweatshirt recovered that same night from Stuckey’s car was “coated in gunshot residue,” Baer said, and cell phone tracking put Stuckey in the vicinity of the slaying scene. He said Stuckey also admitted to a detective that he was there.

Rayon Braxton 

Stuckey, “is the only one who physically could have done this” slaying, Baer insisted.

Matangos said in his opening that the police probe that led to Stuckey’s arrest wasn’t complete. Investigators focused on Stuckey from the start and never considered the possibility that someone else killed Braxton.

“Being at the scene of a crime does not make you guilty of anything,” Matangos said. Police, he added, “made a determination before they began an investigation.”

Baer called Stacy Stewart, Braxton’s girlfriend, as one of his first witnesses. She said Braxton was “stressed out” about his finances in the months before his death. He told her he had borrowed money from Stuckey, who was demanding repayment, she said.

In the summer of 2015, Braxton visited her in her home in Alabama and stayed three weeks. He told her, essentially, that she was hiding from Stuckey, Stewart testified.

“He did tell me that he and Jerren were in a financial dispute,” she said. “He told me he was actually trying to get away from him because he had threatened him and his family…He was just afraid for his life because he was running out of options.”

Roberts Greynolds, the building’s owner, said Braxton was behind on his $975-a-month rent for Braxton Hall when he was killed. Baer had him walk the jurors through a video Detective Richard Gibney made of the building to show there is only one way in or out of the space Braxton rented.

Greynolds said Stuckey once introduced himself and asked him about Braxton’s business and financial status, saying he was considering investing in it. He said Stuckey also spoke of starting a strip club.

After the trial recessed for lunch, Braxton’s kin held a peaceful demonstration outside the courthouse, chanting, “Justice for Rayon,” “God is good,” and “Rayon Braxton matters.”

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