Judge convicts man in restaurant killings case

CLAYTON (AP) — An Illinois man will spend the rest of his life in prison after being found guilty of killing a cook and waitress at a south St. Louis County Steak ‘n Shake restaurant.

Circuit Judge Richard Bresnahan announced the verdict Monday for Oundr’e Akins, 23, of Cahokia, Ill.

Authorities said that in November 2008, Akins and his brother, Anthony Akins, broke into a south St. Louis County Steak ‘n Shake where both had previously worked and killed Tammy Cantrell, 44, and Mark Gerstner, 24, during a robbery that netted less than $200. Police said Oundr’e Akins was the gunman.

Relatives said they were relieved to have at least one of the verdicts out of the way; Anthony Akins has yet to go to trial. They said they still struggle with the deaths more than four years later.

“It knocks you down and it takes the breath out of you,” Cantrell’s sister, Cheryl Cantrell, said. “And it’s a grief that will never go away.”

Gerstner’s uncle, Scott Lanemann, said his nephew “was just the victim of an incredibly animalistic decision.”

Because Oundr’e Akins agreed to a trial before a judge instead of a jury, the death penalty option was waived. He will be sentenced March 21 and the only option is life in prison without parole. His attorneys declined to comment Monday.

Anthony Akins, 24, also of Cahokia, could face the death penalty after backing out of a plea deal. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after agreeing to testify against his brother and received six life sentences. But as his brother’s trial began last week, Anthony Akins reneged. Prosecutors re-filed first-degree murder charges and said they will seek the death penalty. A trial date has not been set.

The brothers formerly worked at the Steak ‘n Shake, but both left about six months before the crime. Anthony Akins was fired, and Oundr’e Akins quit after being passed over for a promotion.

Around 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 10, 2008, Cantrell and Gerstner were preparing to open the restaurant. Prosecutors said Oundr’e Akins confronted Cantrell at the front door and shot her six times, including twice in the head. He then forced Gerstner into a walk-in freezer.

Oundr’e Akins asked Gerstner if he knew who the brothers were. When the cook said he did, Oundr’e Akins shot him once in the back of the head. Anthony Akins used Gerstner’s key card to steal $173 from a register.

A Hostess worker dropping off bread found the bodies later that morning.

Indianapolis-based Steak ‘n Shake immediately offered a $50,000 reward in the case. The arrests came quickly, aided in large part by surveillance video showing the brothers’ car and license plate number.

Police said Oundr’e Akins confessed, and investigators matched bullets from the scene to two guns found at the home of Oundr’e Akins’ girlfriend.

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