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15-year-old charged with murder in shooting death of watermelon vendor, police say

John Materna was selling watermelons out of the back of his truck when he was shot on May 15, according to the Memphis Police Department. He died two weeks later.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — The street watermelon vendor identified as 76-year-old John Materna, who was shot at the corner of Homer and Wayne Ave. during a robbery on May 15, died Monday morning at Regional One Hospital, Memphis Police Department (MPD) said.

According to MPD, a 15-year-old was arrested as a suspect in the shooting on Monday, May 29.

The teen faces several charges, including first degree murder, first degree murder in perpetration of a felony to wit: robbery, especially aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony.

We reached out to Juvenile Court, which said it is unable to release records for any history the 15-year-old has in the juvenile system.

MPD originally said two suspects were involved in the robbery. MPD has not confirmed whether they are still searching for a second suspect. 

Statement from the Materna family

The Materna family released the following statement to ABC24 about the death of their loved one: 

"The tragic loss if this incredible husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend is massive. He is loved by so many people, so much that I don't think he himself knew the amount of love and admiration that was felt for him. We love you, we miss you and will always miss you. We will cherish every memory we have of you. We want to thank the community for the love and support they have shown. Here's a big wave from the Watermelon Man. Love, The Materna's."


MPD officers responded to a shooting call around 9:45 a.m. Monday, May 15, 2023, in the area of Homer St. and Wayne Ave. near Macon. 

According to court documents, officers found John Materna lying on the ground at the corner of Homer and Wayne suffering from a gunshot wound on his left side. A black revolver was also lying next to him, the affidavit said. He was taken to Regional One Hospital in critical condition. 

A man told police that Materna regularly sold watermelons out of the back of his truck in the area where he was shot, according to MPD. 

A witness and friend of Materna told investigators that he and Materna were leaning up against the passenger side of Materna's truck when a silver four-door sedan pulled up to the four-way stop facing northbound on Homer, the affidavit said. 

The witness told police the driver and another man got out of the car, approached them, and patted them down, tapping their front pant pockets with one of them, saying "up it," the affidavit said.

Materna pulled out his black Smith and Wesson .38 special revolver, and that's when one of the suspects fired a shot, the affidavit said.

Police said Materna was struck on his left side, and he fired one shot toward the suspects before falling to the ground.

The two suspects fled heading northbound on Homer. Police said a witness took a picture of the Infiniti. The Infiniti had a paper tag with the word 'RETIRED' on it. 

Another witness told investigators she was in her home and saw the shooting from her window before getting her first-aid kit to help Materna, the affidavit said.

One other witness said he saw it all happen while sitting in his car, according to MPD. 

A couple days after the shooting, Memphis Police released surveillance pictures from a separate robbery, showing a suspect vehicle that matched the description of the Infiniti that fled from Homer and Wayne after Materna was shot.

MPD said about 10 minutes before Materna was robbed and shot near Homer and Wayne, officers responded to a robbery in the 800 block of Berclair Rd.

Investigators said the victim was doing yard work when two suspects driving the same silver Infiniti with the word 'RETIRED' on a paper tag got out of the car and pointed a gun at the victim. They said one suspect patted the victim down and took his keys while the other held him at gunpoint. 

Investigators said both suspects were about 18-years-old, one wearing all black clothing, and the other in a green shirt.


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