Twelve Miller County citizens became the second jury to find a Texarkana man not guilty in the robbery and murder of a drug dealer at the end of a capital murder trial Wednesday.
Justin Damone Johnson, 29, was acquitted of capital murder and two counts of aggravated assault by a jury Wednesday. Justin Johnson was acquitted by a New Mexico jury of remarkably similar charges in 2012.
Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black argued Wednesday morning that testimony concerning the New Mexico case should be admitted because it shows a pattern of conduct by Justin Johnson. Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson ruled the testimony inadmissible in light of the New Mexico jury’s acquittal though he did inform the Miller County jury before releasing them Wednesday afternoon.
Justin Johnson’s defense attorney, Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, argued that witness identifications are unreliable and that those who lived to tell of the Nov. 19, 2015, shooting of Trevon Staten, 22, at the Beacon Point Apartments might have had their memories tainted by media accounts and their desire for justice.
“You can’t dispute what happened over there but this case is about identity,” Harrelson argued in closing. “Is witness testimony always reliable…this was a fight or flight situation, traumatic.”
Rashod “Gucci” Rushing, Staten’s cousin and close friend, testified that Staten was selling marijuana and pills in sizable amounts from his apartment. Rushing and other witnesses testified Staten had a large amount of cash in his pocket before a group of men stormed in and started shooting. The cash and most of the drugs were missing after the shooting.
Rushing testified that Staten, with whom he’d spent most of the day, was expecting to buy codeine cough syrup for recreational use that night. Cough syrup, referred to as drank, is commonly mixed with soda when sold on the street. Phone records showed Justin Johnson’s number listed under the contact “J Drank” in Staten’s phone and a Texarkana, Ark., detective testified Justin Johnson’s phone called Staten’s number minutes before the shooting and robbery.
Rushing testified that in the seconds after Staten was murdered in a hail of bullets, he grabbed a .40 caliber pistol from Staten’s bedroom and headed downstairs. In the grass near Staten’s building Rushing found Julian Bolton crawling on the ground, suffering from a gunshot wound prosecutors argued was likely caused by one of his accomplices. Rushing testified that he shot Bolton twice in the head and admitted to the shooting during an interview with detectives the following morning.
Rushing is currently charged with second-degree murder in Bolton’s death and is being held in the Miller County jail.
The mother of Staten’s two children, Sherlysa Gulley, testified that Justin Johnson is the man who pointed a gun at her as she kneeled on the floor near Staten’s head, their daughter in her arms and their unborn son still in her womb. Gulley denied knowing that Staten was dealing in controlled substances from the small apartment the couple shared.
Mistie Houff, who was living with Bolton at the time of his death, testified that Justin Johnson was in her driveway within hours of the shooting. Houff said Bolton’s Chevy Suburban had been parked at home all night though she saw Justin Johnson closing the SUV’s door. Houff said Justin Johnson just shook his head when she asked where Bolton was.
Black said a witness from New Mexico was prepared to testify that Justin Johnson admitted to committing the murders in Albuquerque in 2010 for which he was acquitted in 2012 and described Wednesday’s verdict as history repeating itself.