POMEROY — A Meigs County man will spend almost two decades of his life behind bars for the death of a West Virginia girl last year.
Ernest Roach, 37, of Racine, who had previously entered a guilty plea in Meigs County Common Pleas Court, was sentenced to 19 years to life in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in the death of Ericka Brown, 16, of Cross Lanes, W.Va. Her body was originally discovered Aug. 30, 2014, on the banks of the Ohio River near Portland.
Roach pleaded guilty to one count of murder, which carries a 15-year to life sentence; tampering with evidence, which is a felony in the third degree and carries a 36-month sentence; and gross abuse of a corpse, which carries a 12 month sentence. He will be up for parole after 19 years in prison, but will remain behind bars if parole is denied at that time, The Meigs County Prosecutor’s Office said. Meigs County Prosecutor Colleen Williams said the sentence would’ve been a similar time frame that he might’ve received had the case gone to trial.
“This was the best way with everyone to go forward with it,” Williams said.
Roach was first arrested on federal charges in Kanawha County in connection with the disappearance of Brown after being stopped by an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper. According to information provided by the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, Brown was reported missing to the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office at 11 a.m.
A press release about the missing teen first appeared on the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office website Aug. 13, 2014.
The release did not identify what Brown was wearing at the time of her disappearance, but reported that she was about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, about 100 pounds and had sandy blonde hair.
The sheriff’s office soon learned that Brown had been using Craigslist to meet men.
The sheriff’s office interviewed many people who contacted Brown through her Craigslist listing. However, phone records did not support any of those interviewed as people of interest in Brown’s disappearance. After looking at Brown’s own cell phone records, officers discovered that her cell phone had used towers from Cross Lanes to Jackson County, W.Va., and the Portland, Ohio area.
After looking through hundreds of thousands of phone records, evidence showed that Roach was with Brown the night of her disappearance. Initially, Roach was questioned on Aug. 27, 2014, when he volunteered to meet with sheriff’s office officials for a polygraph test the next day, but never showed up. He fled from his residence and later appeared in Belpre, Ohio.
The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, along with the FBI, the Belpre Police Department and Washington County sheriff deputies went to Belpre on Aug. 29, 2014, to locate Roach. He was arrested the next day by Ohio State Highway Patrol in Washington County, Ohio. The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department interviewed Roach on Aug. 30, 2014 — the same day Brown’s body was found.
According to a release from the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, police learned Brown was using Internet postings on Craigslist to meet men, including Roach, for the purpose of sexual intercourse. Williams said an autopsy showed that Brown had been strangled, but that Roach had not provided specific details.
“The focus should be on Ernest’s crime, that he killed her and that she was a young woman just barely getting started; not even a woman at all,” she said. “So we want to focus on where the actual blame in this case lies, and that Mr. Roach killed this 16-year-old child.”
With agreement from Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney Colleen Williams and Brown’s family, Judge Carson Crow sentenced Roach to a minimum of 19 years in prison, with charges 2, 5 and 6 — two counts of compelling prostitution and one count of tampering with evidence, respectively — dropped. Williams said that the tampering with evidence charge came as a result of Roach disposing of Brown’s cell phone so that family members couldn’t reach her and that the gross abuse of a corpse charge came from Roach’s attempt to dispose of Brown’s body. Because the murder was not premeditated and was not labeled as an aggravated murder the death penalty was not an option, Williams said.
Also present were Public Defense Attorney Herman Carson and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jeremy Fisher.
A statement was read by Brown’s older sister, Nicole Abboud, who condemned Roach’s actions.
“She was only 16 and in the prime of her lifetime. She had so much life ahead of her,” Abboud said. “Ernest Roach took her life from her and his sentencing will never be enough.”
Theda Petrasko, Meigs County’s victim assistance director, read a statement on behalf of Brown’s father, David, who also spoke on behalf of his wife, Elizabeth.
“Our world ended,” he said. “We are two empty souls walking this earth now.”
The family made no other statements.
The case was investigated by the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Meigs County Prosecutor’s Office assisted.
Reach Lindsay Kriz at 740-992-2155 EXT. 2555.