In the Face of Death
At 2:40 a.m. on Aug. 26, 1998, along a main drag on the west side of Indianapolis, 18-year-old Jeremy Gross approached a convenience store with a friend. They intended to rob it. At 5-foot-8 and of slender build, Gross was not particularly physically imposing, and he had a distant look about him. He wore his blond hair in a bowl cut and often seemed nervous and fidgety. He knew the store well, since he worked there part time, and he also knew the young man, Christopher Beers, who was the lone clerk that morning. Beers, who was 24, had been raised by his father and had completed one year at Purdue University before running out of money for tuition. He was overweight and, according to his uncle, mild-mannered. He was working to earn money to return to school. An avid reader, he welcomed the graveyard shift; it gave him time with his books.
And yet they didn't.
Gross stood outside the glass doors, behind his accomplice, Joshua Spears. He held a small, black semiautomatic pistol at his side, out of sight. Gross was jumpy, turning his head from side to side to make sure no one was in the parking lot. Beers buzzed them in. Gross took long, hurried strides into the store, raised his right arm and started shooting. It happened so quickly that Beers didn't have a chance to say anything. The first shot hit him in the abdomen. Gross continued to fire. Three shots missed, but a fourth hit Beers in the chest. ''Oh, God, please, no,'' he pleaded. As Beers stumbled into the back office, Gross followed and, to get a better angle, shifted the pistol from his right hand to his left. From close range, Gross shot Beers in the face. With blood now gushing from his eyes, Beers reached out for Gross, as if he were asking for support. Gross pushed him away, and he crumpled to the floor. ''Why, Jeremy, why?'' Beers asked. Gross told him to shut up.
Gross's partner, Spears, had headed for another room to get the surveillance tape, but he couldn't get the eject to function, so he grabbed the VCR. Meanwhile, Gross emptied the cash register and office safe of $650, then ripped the two telephone cords from the wall. This all happened in less than a minute. The two fled by foot, through a neighborhood of mobile homes to their trailer park not more than half a mile away. Along the way, Gross and Spears threw the gun and the VCR over a wire fence into a retaining pond.
After they left, Beers lifted himself off the floor and shuffled out the door to a pay phone, where he again collapsed. He died under a dangling phone, rivulets of blood running from his head.
A passer-by who was a regular customer at the Convenient Food Mart had seen Gross and Spears enter the store. He gave the police a description, and another employee said that the description sounded like that of Gross. Less than seven hours later, Gross confessed to detectives, steering them to the VCR and gun. They found the VCR lying in shallow water, protruding from the mud; divers recovered the gun.
F.B.I. experts salvaged the videotape of the murder, and a few weeks later, after viewing the terror of that night, Scott Newman, then the Marion County prosecutor, told a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, ''There isn't a jury in this world . . . that would not recommend the ultimate penalty in this case, the death penalty.''
Matthew Carroll-Schmidt at 10:21 AM