Charlotte teens arrested for murder plan that lured victim via online sales app

Zachary Finch, who pitched for his college baseball team, was fatally shot in Charlotte on June 18.
Zachary Finch, who pitched for his college baseball team, was fatally shot in Charlotte on June 18. jwester@charlotteobserver.com

Two 15-year-olds have been charged in the murder of a college baseball player who was killed while responding to an ad on an online sales app similar to Craigslist, police said Friday.

Police initially said one teen had been charged in the case. Friday night, police said a second teen, also 15, was charged after warrants were issued and he turned himself in. Neither has been identified because of their age.

As a result of the killing, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police announced they are creating “safe exchange areas” where Charlotte residents can handle sales made via internet apps. Those sites will be announced as early as next week, CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano said.

The teen, whose name was not released due to his age, is charged with the murder of Zachary Joseph Finch, 21, who pitched for Kentucky’s University of the Cumberlands. He was on a full scholarship with the program, family members have said.

Finch was attempting to buy a cellphone when he was fatally shot in June, CMPD Capt. Chris Dozier said at a news conference Friday at police headquarters. The meeting to sell the phone was set up through an online application called letgo. Police said Finch did not know the people he was meeting.

“As far as what the victim did, there doesn’t appear to be any type of defense or fighting that led to the shooting,” Dozier said. “...The motive here seemed to be robbery, but to have this happen and have such a disregard, for such a young person to commit this kind of crime is disturbing.”

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Capt. Chris Dozier, left, and CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano, right, address reporters at CMPD headquarters on Friday about the arrest of a 15-year-old in the killing of 21-year-old Zachary Joseph Finch. Joe Marusak jmarusak@charlotteobserver.com

The teen was arrested Thursday. Dozier said police have “one or two” other suspects who were at the scene. Dozier declined to say whether police believe the suspects are part of a gang.

Police declined to say what led them to the suspects, but Dozier said letgo assisted police with information. “That helps tremendously when we have that type of cooperation,” he said.

Finch was killed at around 1:30 p.m. on June 18, in the 2300 block of Farmer Street.

Officers arrived to find him lying on the ground in the front yard of an apartment. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Farmer Street is off Clanton Road in southwest Charlotte, close to Barringer Elementary School.

Exchange areas planned

Dozier said police are working to partner with companies to provide places “that are certified safe, where people can safely prearrange and make transactions.”

Cities, counties and towns that have established such safe areas include Huntersville, Kannapolis, Carthage, Southern Pines, Cary, Apex, Durham County, Garner, Morrisville, Orange County and Wake Forest in North Carolina and North Charleston, Beaufort and Bluffton in South Carolina.

The most important message, Dozier said, is to conduct such transactions in public places if you don’t know the seller, such as the parking lots of police stations.

“If they’re concerned about their public safety, do not make that transaction,” he said. “It’s up to the person to make the transaction on their terms.”

Charlotte has had 50 homicides this year. In at least 36 of the cases, the victim knew the suspect, Tufano said. “This is extremely rare to have a situation like this,” he said.

Finch’s older brother, Nicholas, said Zachary was studying public health, with one year left to go before graduation.

His parents moved to the Charlotte area from south Florida a couple of years ago, and their three children attended college in different states.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call 704-432-8477 and speak to a Homicide Unit detective. The public can also call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 or visit the Crime Stoppers mobile app website at http://charlottecrimestoppers.com/.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.