Conspirators Used GPS Tracking Devices to Hunt Their Victim
KANSAS CITY, MO (STL.News) – Three men have been indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a cyberstalking conspiracy that utilized GPS tracking devices to help carry out the murder of a Kansas City, Missouri, man.
Lester E. Brown, 32, of Kansas City, Missouri, Michael Young, 29, of Independence, Missouri, and Ronell Pearson, 32, currently living in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, area, were charged in a three-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury on Wednesday, Aug. 7. Pearson was arrested today and has an initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minn. Young was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 8, following a high-speed pursuit by law enforcement in which he crashed his vehicle. Brown is currently in federal custody in an unrelated case.
Murder of Christopher Harris
The federal indictment alleges that Brown, Young, and Pearson participated in a conspiracy from Nov. 1, 2017, to March 19, 2018, to engage in the cyberstalking of Christopher Harris, which resulted in his death. They allegedly deployed multiple GPS devices on vehicles used by Harris and his associates to track their locations. They allegedly used a GPS device on Harris’s vehicle to track Harris and kill him while he was dropping off his minor daughter after her dance class.
The indictment also alleges that conspirators sent threatening messages to Harris using the social media service Snap in November and December 2017. These messages included photographs of GPS devices, and demanded a payment to Brown of $1,000 per month. One message allegedly threatened Harris to “Pay me, or I’m going to touch something deeper, something close to you.”
In January 2018, the indictment says, conspirators surveilled Harris’s girlfriend at her place of employment, and followed her to the residence she shared with Harris. On Feb. 2, 2018, they allegedly deployed a GPS tracking device on Harris’s black Nissan Altima, and used a tracking service to determine his real-time location. Another tracking device was deployed on Harris’s vehicle on March 12, 2018.
On March 14, 2018, Harris picked up his daughter and drove her to dance class. Conspirators tracked Harris as he drove his daughter home from dance class and dropped her off at her mother’s residence. Conspirators shot a firearm multiple times into Harris’s vehicle, causing Harris to exclaim, “My daughter’s in the car! My daughter is in the car!” They then shot Harris multiple times in the head, killing him.
Brown, Young, and Pearson are charged together in one count of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking resulting in the death of Harris, and one count of aiding and abetting in the cyberstalking of Harris, resulting in his death.
Brown is also charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm for illegally possessing the Glock .45-caliber pistol used to murder Harris. Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a felony to be in possession of any firearm or ammunition. Brown has prior felony convictions for receiving stolen property and for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Murder of Ryan Cobbins
The indictment also cites the murder of Ryan Cobbins, a friend and associate of Harris. One of the Snap messages allegedly sent to Harris threatened, “Man, you … are gonna end up like Ryan,” which Harris took to be a reference to the murder of his friend Ryan Cobbins in 2013.
According to the indictment, in late 2013 Brown (who had recently activated a GPS tracking service) impersonated a customer looking to purchase a vehicle when he was confronted by a mechanic, who found Brown underneath an orange Camaro that belonged to an (unidentified) associate of Harris’s. The vehicle was later sold to Cobbins. Brown also allegedly impersonated a law enforcement officer to a mechanic who discovered a GPS tracking device underneath another vehicle owned by Harris’s associate, and demanded the return of the tracking device. In January 2014, Harris’s associate discovered another GPS tracker on one of his vehicles.
Cobbins went missing on Oct. 24, 2013, following a haircut appointment. In November 2013, Brown accepted $20,000 from Harris and another person as “ransom” payment for the return of Cobbins. Brown claimed he could act as the middleman between the kidnappers and Harris, and that he could arrange the safe return of Cobbins. On Dec. 31, 2014, Cobbins was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds, with hair clips still in his hair from his Oct. 24, 2013, haircut appointment.
There are no charges in the indictment directly related to the murder of Cobbins.
The charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew P. Wolesky and Joseph M. Marquez. It was investigated by the Independence, Mo., Police Department, the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department, and the FBI.