Cuyahoga County

Mastermind, shooters get life in prison


The convicted mastermind of a deadly 2016 heist at Cooley Lounge and the two men who shot dead a beloved bartender there were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison Thursday.

Anita Hollins, 42, her 21-year-old paramour Nigel Brunson and 30-year-old Dana Thomas each received life sentences with no possibility of parole after they were convicted in July of aggravated murder and other charges in the October 2016 killing of Melissa Brinker.

Friends and family of Brinker's held each other's hands in the back of the courtroom and exhaled with tearful elation when Common Pleas Court Judge Pamela Barker announced the first life-without-parole sentence.

"If we didn't get that sentence on those three, we wouldn't have been very happy," Brinker's boyfriend, Matthew Soos, told after the hearing. "I just hope we can find some kind of closure now."

Dwayne Sims, who pleaded guilty in the middle of the trial to aggravated robbery charges, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Sims went into the bar and participated in the robbery but did not fire his weapon, prosecutors said.

Barker, who presided over the jury trial for Hollins and Brunson and found Thomas guilty after he waived his right to have his case heard by the jury, said she found many of the details that came out in trial testimony haunting.

Hollins, a Cooley Lounge regular, was the victim of an assault at the bar in 2015 and blamed another bartender after the two people who attacked her were acquitted at a trial in 2016, prosecutors said. Hollins solicited Brunson, who prosecutors said is a member of the Heartless Felons gang, and the others to rob the bar as payback.

Hollins drove the trio, as well as a fourth man, Garry Lake, to the bar in her SUV and waited as three of them - Brunson, Thomas and Sims - went into the bar to carry out the robbery.

Surveillance video showed two of the men ordering a drink from Brinker and sharing it before they pulled out pistols and forced everyone in the bar to the floor. The third man joined.

Brunson kicked one of the customers, Malissa Morton, in the back of the head so hard that she later had to have brain surgery to repair damaged nerves.

"I was just waiting for him to shoot me," Morton said in court Thursday.

Thomas forced Brinker from her spot behind the bar to the office, where he kicked the locked door until it flung open and tossed Brinker into the office. Thomas fired two shots, hitting Brinker once, dropping her to the floor.

She was still alive, until Brunson came over and saw as much. The video showed him kneel over her, stand back up and fire a single, fatal shot directly into Brinker's body as she lay on the floor. The men ran back into Hollins' car.

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