A Fort Wayne man was convicted Friday of all five counts of murder, felony murder and robbery in the February 2020 slayings described as a drug deal gone bad.
Kerwins Louis, then 20, was the last of three men convicted in a double homicide Feb. 26, 2020, at the home of Meng Kem, 28, at 2405 Barnhart Ave. on the city's northeast side.
Mon Ong, 21, died from a bullet wound to the chest. Brooke Wendel, 23, shot in the head as she slept on a couch, died at a hospital. Kem was critically wounded but survived to speak to detectives.
Their charges were nearly identical: two counts of murder, two counts of felony murder, robbery; and using a firearm in the commission of an offense.
Kyaw Htet Hlang, 24, also charged with attempted murder in Kem's shooting, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony murder and robbery last year and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Jamesley Paul, now 24, did not take a plea deal and was convicted in June for the murder of Ong – two counts of felony murder and robbery. In July, he was sentenced to 146 years in prison by Superior Court Judge Fran Gull.
Louis' sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 22.
In a probable cause affidavit, Hlang told detectives he shot Kem, whom he had known since childhood. Kem told police Hlang “shot his girl,” Wendel.
Prosecutors Tom Chaille and Tesa Helge said Louis was one of three people intent on robbing the three victims to get the money and drugs kept in a small gold box and then killing them to get rid of the evidence.
At Paul's trial, the stash was identified as $1,500 in cash, fentanyl and weed.
If Meng Kem, 28, hadn't survived the bullet that went through his neck and into his arm, causing paralysis and lifelong injuries, the shooters may have gotten away with it, Chaille said. Luckily for Kem, a friend showed up just after the shootings and called police.
At the hospital, Kem identified Hlang as the one who knocked on his door after midnight, saying he wanted to talk. With him were two young black men, Kem said.
Police recovered a gun in Hlang's car several hours after the killings. That gun was identified as one of the murder weapons through forensic evidence. Multiple DNA on the gun “couldn't be developed,” Chaille said.
No other gun was found. At the scene, five shell casings were recovered, but others could have been recovered by the shooters because none were found where Kem was found lying on the living room floor, Chaille said. Evidence on projectiles, also known as bullets, was apparently inconclusive, Chaille noted.
But circumstantial evidence tied Louis and the others to the crime besides Kem's testimony. With Hlang's mother's house at 4210 Victoria Drive under surveillance by quick-acting police, Louis and Paul were caught sitting outside the home. Later, Louis' backpack with his ID and toothbrush were found inside.
Placing Louis with the other two solidified the prosecutor's case that Louis “acted in concert” with the other two and was therefore properly charged the same as them, regardless of whether he pulled the trigger or not.
He was an accomplice, Chaille said, because he was there, he failed to put a stop to the ensuing violence and was caught with them afterwards.
“You are responsible for the consequences for what you set in motion,” Chaille said.
“It doesn't matter who fired the shot.”
Defense attorney Nikos Nakos said otherwise. Calling his 20-year-old client “dumb and stupid,” Nakos said Louis was naïve and scared and changed his story under the intimidating interrogation of homicide detectives.
Kem failed to tie Louis to the scene, Nakos said. There was no DNA proof in any of the evidence, “nothing swabbed,” and video proof was nonexistent except for detective interviews at police headquarters.
“No one proved Kerwins Louis ever shot a gun,” he said. “He's not a murderer. He made stupid decisions.
“All 12 of you must agree,” Nakos told the jury and said the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt Louis was an accomplice to the crime.