A teenage gunman (Sean Mercer, pictured) has been found guilty of the murder of 11-year-old Rhys Jones, who was gunned down as he made his way home from football training in Liverpool.
Gang member Sean Mercer, 18, was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of blasting three bullets across a pub car park in Croxteth, Liverpool, after targeting rivals who had strayed on to his turf.
Innocent schoolboy Rhys was caught in the line of fire and shot in the neck.
He died in his mother’s arms a short time later.
After almost four days of deliberations, the jury of seven women and five men convicted Mercer of murder unanimously.
The verdict was reached yesterday but could not be reported until now.
What the jurors did not know was that just two months before he shot Rhys, Mercer was involved in a chilling rehearsal of the killing.
Waving a gun, he rode a motorcycle past members of the public on rival gang territory. The incident was not reported to police at the time.
The jurors were also unaware that just weeks after shooting Rhys, Mercer was given a three-year Asbo for terrorising security guards at a sports centre.
Fellow gang members James Yates, 20, of Dodman Road and Nathan Quinn, 18, of Wickett Close, both Croxteth; Gary Kays, 26, of Mallard Close and Melvin Coy, 25, of Abbeyfield Drive, both West Derby, Liverpool, and Boy M, 16, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were convicted unanimously yesterday of assisting an offender after they helped Mercer evade the police for months.
Boy K, 17, who also cannot be named, was also convicted today of four related charges.
When the main verdicts were delivered only two people in the packed courtroom could not hold back their emotions – Rhys’s mother, Melanie Jones, and the killer’s father, burly Joseph McCormick, who was dressed entirely in black.
As Mercer’s “guilty” verdict was announced to the silent courtroom, Mrs Jones, 42, who was sitting opposite her son’s killer, burst into tears and buried her head in her husband’s shoulder to stifle her sobs.
Rhys’s father Stephen, 45, choked back tears as Mercer blinked, looked down and visibly paled, repeatedly puffing his cheeks out.
For the first time in the trial the teenage killer looked close to showing emotion as he stared towards the public gallery where his father sat, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Mr McCormick mouthed, “I love you” to his son – and left the court.
But Quinn cracked a joke, inaudible behind the reinforced glass of the dock, and he and other defendants smiled and laughed.
As they were all led away Mercer shook Quinn’s hand and the pair hugged before they were led down to the cells.
During the trial, the jury heard that Mercer, of Good Shepherd Close, Croxteth, was a leading member of the Croxteth Crew gang, which terrorised the local community and was involved in a long-running and bloody feud with the Strand Gang, based on the neighbouring Norris Green estate.
Mercer had an “intense hatred” of Strand Gang member Wayne Brady.
When told by Coy and Kays that Brady, 19, and two rivals others had been seen cycling near the Fir Tree Pub on Croxteth Crew territory, Mercer set about the murder.
Dressed in a black hoodie and tracksuit, Mercer got hold of Yates’s Smith & Wesson .455 revolver and cycled to the pub where he took up position on a grass verge alongside the car park.
Standing astride the bicycle with his arms out-stretched in front of him, he clasped the gun with both hands and fired three shots at Brady’s friends, moving his arms in an arc to follow their movements on their bicycles.
Rhys, distracted by the sound of the first bullet, which struck a shipping container in the car park, turned toward the gunman and was struck in the neck by the second bullet.
Mercer then adjusted his position to aim one final shot at his two rivals.
The third bullet struck a disused well as the gunman and his targets fled the scene.
After the shooting, Mercer cycled to the home of Boy M, where he called on his fellow gang members to help him avoid the law.
With Yates, Quinn and Kays, he was driven by Coy to a lock-up garage on an industrial estate where his clothes were burned and his body washed down with petrol.
Mercer gave the murder weapon to 17-year-old Boy X, who was frightened of him and who hid it in a dog kennel.
It was later moved by Boy K to the loft of his house, along with a second gun and ammunition, where police found it later.
A crucial breakthrough in the police investigation came three months later when Boy X, who cannot be named, accepted immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving evidence against the gang.
Together with information gained from bugging devices in the homes of Yates and Boy M, much of which cannot be reported, and mobile phone logs, detectives were able to piece together the movements of the killer and his cohorts as they sought to evade justice.