Sean Mercer was just 16 when he fired the fatal shot but was already a hardened criminal steeped in the drug-dealing violence of Liverpool. Rhys was 11 and obsessed with football. He died in his mother's arms.Teenage gang leader who gunned down innocent schoolboy Rhys Jones was convicted of murder today.Mercer, now 18, stood trial after police finally cracked the wall of silence in the city that had protected him. As Rhys's parents Stephen and Melanie Jones looked on, six other thugs were also convicted of helping Mercer cover up after the shooting.They are James Yates, 20, Nathan Quinn, 18, Melvin Coy, 24, Gary Kays, 25, Dean Kelly, 17, and a youth aged 16 known as M who cannot be named because of his age. Mercer faces the juvenile equivalent of a life sentence when all the defendants are sentenced later at Liverpool Crown Court by Mr Justice Irwin.Rhys's father welcomed the conviction of Mercer, saying: "Finally justice has been done for Rhys."
The murder in August last year shocked a nation already weary of inner-city gun crime. He had been walking home from under-12 football practice when he was hit by the second of three shots fired across the car park of the Fire Tree pub in Croxteth.
Mercer, a leader of the Crocky of Croxteth Crew, was aiming at members of the rival Nogga Dogz gang from Norris Green. Hooded and standing astride his silver Hardrock bike, he took aim and fired again at his target even when Rhys lay dying, a bullet in his neck.Mercer cycled off and ordered his gang to hide the weapon, a First World War .455 Smith & Wesson, and drive him to a disused factory in Kirby where he washed down in petrol to destroy evidence. Such was the horrified reaction in Liverpool that dozens anonymously named Mercer as the killer and his name was posted on the internet, YouTube and in graffitti all over Liverpool. But nobody was prepared to stand up with real evidence.Mercer enjoyed a cloak of protection - partly because of fears of gangland reprisal and partly because of Merseyside's reluctance to be branded a "grass". The breakthrough came when a tip-off led to the murder weapon being found and a key witness known as X was offered immunity from prosecution in return for giving evidence against Mercer and the gang.In a conversation bugged by police, Yates talked about the shooting of Rhys and who supplied the gun. He said: "I bought that gun three years ago. End of story. What? What can they prove? Nothing."The murder of Rhys was the culmination of three years of violence between the two gangs in a turf war over drug dealing.The war started with the shooting of a 17-year-old "Crocky" and within hours shots were fired at homes in Norris Green. : "It was like waking up in the middle of th Alamo."Liam "Snigger" Smith, leader of the Nogga Dogz, was then shot as he left prison and Rhys was killed hours before the first anniversary of this attack.
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