INVADED: Robbed in Their Homes, Victims Recall the Terror and Reflect on the Fallout

By John Futty, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Feb. 12–Cynthia Green was pulling off her nightgown and opening her shower door when she saw strangers in the hallway. Three young men in dark clothing stood at the top of the stairs in her German Village home. In the reflection of the mirrored closets lining the hall, she saw that one was pointing a handgun at her. He told her to keep undressing. Then he took her by the arm, pointed the gun at her head and forced her toward the bedroom. “I can’t die today,” she told him. “My daughter is getting married Saturday.””If you do what I tell you to do, you won’t,” he replied.

Green moved to German Village four years ago. She left her hometown of Chillicothe to escape the attention of a messy, high-profile divorce.

“I didn’t want anyone to know me,” she said. “I wanted to blend into the woodwork.”

That ended the morning of Sept. 27, 2005, when the robbers invaded her house, terrorized her at gunpoint and tied her naked to a chair before taking cash, jewelry, a stereo, two laptop computers and her Mercedes.

Intimate details of her experience were aired on TV and radio and reported in The Dispatch.

Green, a 50-year-old dental hygienist who manages a group of periodontic offices, found herself defined by one traumatic event.

“I felt so bad that I was turned into a stereotype … a poster child for single women living in the city being a target of crime.

“I also felt like this was perpetuating the stereotype about young, black males,” she said recently of the men who attacked her. “I struggled with that.”

Those men, ages 19 to 24, were arrested after three more home invasions — two in the German Village area and one in Portsmouth in southern Ohio. In each case, the residents were surprised in the early morning, robbed at gunpoint and forced to strip.

Last month, the last of the robbers was sentenced in Franklin County. Marquis Hairston, along with his half-brother Louis Hairston and cousin Jovaughny Hairston, were sent to prison for a combined 201 years for the Columbus crimes. They also were sentenced to a combined 131 years for the Portsmouth crime.

Some in the community complained that the sentences by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Julie M. Lynch were too harsh, particularly the 134 years for Marquis, who was portrayed as the ringleader.

Green called the sentencing decisions “very bold and very gutsy.”

“I have children almost the same age as these young men, and as a mother, I have compassion,” said Green, who has three daughters. “But do I think they deserved it? Yeah. They didn’t just set out to rob us, they set out to terrorize and humiliate us. … And they enjoyed it so much that they did it again and again.”

Melanie Pinkerton’s mind raced as she lay naked, bound with neckties to a chair that was tipped on its back. Behind her, two armed intruders forced her fiance, Gary Michael Reames, to strip and prepared to tie him up. “What do you do now, Mel, what do you do now?” she kept asking herself as she stared at the ceiling. The answer came back: “Remember every detail.” She looked both intruders up and down, determined to give police the best description possible. One man grabbed two pillows from a bedroom and put them over Reames’ head. “If he tries anything,” the gunman said, “I’m going to pop a cap in his (expletive) skull.”

Pinkerton, 33, grew up in Minerva, a northeastern Ohio village where “everybody knew everybody and nobody locked anything.”

But she and Reames didn’t realize that a kitchen window had been left unlocked in their Merion Village home, three blocks from Green’s house, on the morning of Oct. 10, 2005. That was how two men got into the house.

The couple were awakened by their barking Chihuahuas when the men came upstairs, one armed with a handgun and the other with a knife he had taken from the kitchen.

“Where’s your wife?” the intruders asked Reames when he encountered them outside the bedroom.

Pinkerton met Reames eight years ago at G. Michael’s, a restaurant he coowns in German Village. They were engaged to be married.

She had come to Columbus to attend Ohio State University and stayed for a job with Franklin County Children Services. She now works for a security firm.

She managed to free herself after the attackers fled in her 2005 BMW, and she untied Reames, whose feet were turning blue from lack of circulation.

In her rambling call to 911, she asked the dispatcher about a woman whose nearby home had been invaded two weeks earlier.

Green was on her knees in the bedroom as the intruders asked where she kept her jewelry and other valuables. The gunman repeatedly jammed the gun against her temple. “The safety’s off,” he warned. “Are you telling the truth? Think hard.” Using Green’s belts and ties from her terrycloth bathrobes, the men bound her to a chair and stuffed a pair of socks in her mouth. They took the keys to her 2005 Mercedes, then pulled the socks out of her mouth several times to ask how to start the car without setting off the alarm. The gunman lingered while his accomplices went outside to load what they had stolen into the car. “If the alarm goes off,” he told her, “I’m going to shoot you.” Before he left, he kicked her in the stomach, knocking the chair over backward.

Green went to her daughter’s wedding in Chillicothe “black and blue from head to toe and on anti-anxiety drugs,” she said.

“I hated that that was the background conversation for the wedding. It was humiliating to stand in front of 400 guests and realize they all knew I had been stripped naked and held hostage in my home.”

What the robbers took, including jewelry and $1,000 in cash for the wedding and all the alcohol for the rehearsal dinner, was replaceable.

But Green worries that the men were fueled in part by the alcohol when, two days later, they broke into a Portsmouth funeral home and awakened the owners, Ralph and Marcia Melcher. A struggle began when they forced the couple to strip and made sexual advances toward Mrs. Melcher. Both were shot; Mr. Melcher lost an eye.

Pinkerton thinks the experience in Portsmouth changed how the Hairstons operated. Jovaughny Hairston didn’t participate in the next two robberies. And although Pinkerton and her fiance were threatened repeatedly by a gun-wielding Marquis Hairston, there was no hint of sexual assault.

“We’re not perverts,” Marquis Hairston assured Pinkerton as he made her undress. Louis Hairston got two bottles of water and a bag of baby carrots from the kitchen after the couple were tied up. He placed a bottle beside Pinkerton and one beside Reames. “In case you need these by the time you get untied,” he told them. Then he began counting out carrots into a pile for each of them. “Sorry, dude,” he told Reames when he was finished. “She got the last one.”

Pinkerton and Reames broke off their engagement the following August. She no longer lives in the German Village area. The fallout from the robbery was only one of the contributing factors in the breakup, she said.

“He wanted to move on, act like it didn’t happen. I needed to talk it out, communicate about it.”

At the urging of the detective working her case, she became a spokeswoman for the victims, trying to get the word out about the crimes.

She blamed herself for not doing enough when the robbers struck again on Oct. 25, 2005, climbing through an unlocked window at the German Village home of John Maransky. Two men forced the 38-year-old former Marine to strip and hogtied him in his basement before stealing his 1999 Toyota 4 Runner.

Some of the items taken in the robberies turned up at central Ohio pawn shops and were traced to the Hairstons, who were arrested that November.

Another ordeal began for the victims, whose discomfort with sitting near their attackers in the courtroom was compounded by their treatment by some of the Hairstons’ friends and relatives, one of whom said of Louis, “he should have killed the bitches.”

Still, Green and Pinkerton said they felt no satisfaction from seeing the anguish of the Hairston family.

“I can’t imagine sitting in a courtroom and watching a family member or someone I cared about being sent to prison for life,” Pinkerton said. “It was very emotional.”

Green agreed with those who found it unfair that, on the day of Marquis’ sentencing, a man convicted of murder was sentenced to 21 years in prison, 113 years fewer than Marquis got.

“My problem isn’t with what the judge did in the Hairston case but what the justice system might not do in other cases,” Green said. “Why isn’t everyone held to the letter of the law? “

She doesn’t dwell on the trauma of the event, but it “sneaks into my sleep,” she said.

“I have yet to sleep through the night, unless I go to a hotel or my parents’ house.”

And she still doesn’t want her picture in the media. That’s the one shred of anonymity to which Cynthia Green continues to cling.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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