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Beaver County pastor pleads for life of grandson facing death

Jason Cato
| Friday, Nov. 2, 2007

A Beaver County pastor, who overcame an abusive childhood in foster homes and alcoholism in a drug-plagued New York housing project, pleaded with a federal jury Thursday to spare her grandson's life.

"I just feel like it would be a terrible waste to put him to death," Elaine Solomon said when asked about the possibility that Jelani Solomon, a convicted Beaver Falls drug dealer, could get the death penalty for paying another drug dealer to kill an informant's father.

"I feel like if he's done something wrong. He should be punished," she said. "But he shouldn't die."

Frank Helisek Jr., 53, was fatally shot at his New Brighton home Jan. 19, 2004. Claron "Lee" Hanner, 30, of St. Clair Village testified two weeks ago that Jelani Solomon paid him $20,000 in cash and cocaine to kill Helisek, whose son was scheduled to testify the following morning in a Beaver County drug trial.

Last week, jurors found Jelani Solomon, 28, guilty on six drug and gun charges, including using a firearm in a drug crime that resulted in murder. Testimony ended yesterday in the penalty phase of the trial. Jurors must decide whether he receives the death penalty or life in prison. Any other sentence would be imposed by U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry.

Elaine Solomon testified that the abuse she endured as a child and the alcohol she drank to mask the pain negatively impacted the way she raised her children, including Wanda Solomon -- Jelani Solomon's mother -- who is serving 20 years in prison on federal drug charges.

Wanda Solomon first wanted to abort her son's pregnancy, but she changed her mind at the doctor's office, Elaine Solomon said. Then she planned to give him up for adoption, before later deciding to keep him.

Elaine Solomon said she chose the name Jelani, which she said means "God's Mighty Warrior."

"He fought to get into the world," she said. "Even now that name holds. He's still fighting."

Elaine Solomon moved to Beaver Falls in the early 1980s to preach at House of Lord Church and helped raise several of her grandchildren, including Jelani Solomon.

Wanda Solomon moved to Beaver Falls in the early 1990s after getting out of prison on drug charges. Defense attorneys are trying to convince jurors that their client's drug-dealing mother influenced her son's life in such a detrimental way that he had little option but to turn to drugs and violence.

Closing arguments will be heard this morning.

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