Testimony begins in Miller County capital murder trial

Justin Damone Johnson

Testimony began Tuesday at the Miller County courthouse in the trial of a man accused of capital murder in connection with a drug-related robbery.

Justin Damone Johnson, 29, faces life without parole if found guilty of capital murder in the November 19, 2015, shooting death of 22-year-old Trevon Staten. Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black told the jury in opening statements Tuesday morning that while Justin Johnson may not have fired the bullet that killed Staten, he was a key participant in the robbery that led to Staten’s death and therefore just as culpable.

Texarkana defense attorney Jeff Harrelson told the jury the central issue in the case is identity, whether Justin Johnson is the person two eyewitnesses pointed out in court Tuesday as among a group of men who stormed into Staten’s home at the Beacon Point Apartments in Texarkana, Ark., shortly before midnight.

Sherlysa Gulley, the mother of Staten’s 1- and 3-year-old children, testified under questioning by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Cotten that she was seated on the sofa with the couple’s daughter when there was a knock at the door. Gulley said she had only been home from work for a few minutes when Staten opened the door and said, “What’s up bro,” after looking through the peephole. Gulley said the gunfire began almost immediately as several other men entered the apartment. Gulley identified Justin Johnson as the man who pointed a gun toward her and her daughter during the fray.

Rashod Rushing testified he, Staten, and two other men were seated at a small kitchen table socializing when the knock came at the door. Rushing, who is Staten’s cousin, said he had spent most of the day with Staten, who was selling marijuana, Xanax bars and “mollies.” Rushing testified that Staten had a sizable quantity of Xanax bars and a substantial amount of marijuana in bags and glass jars.

Rushing said Staten was smiling when he opened the door. Seconds later several other men entered and the shooting started. Rushing said he hit the floor under the table until the gunplay ended. Rushing said he took a gun from Staten’s bedroom and ran outside where he found Julian Bolton, whose face was partially covered with camouflage fabric, crawling on the grass near the apartment building suffering from a gunshot wound. Rushing testified he shot Bolton twice in the head. Rushing is currently facing a pending second-degree murder charge in Bolton’s death.

Texarkana, Ark., crime scene investigator Tye Whatley testified that he recovered bags of marijuana, a grinder used in marijuana smoking and other items which were scattered on the stairs leading to Staten’s apartment. Whatley testified that Xanax and marijuana were found in the apartment though not in the quantities Rushing described were present before the shooting. As jurors looked at a crime scene photo of Staten’s body, Whatley testified that the victim’s left pocket was turned inside out. Rushing testified Staten had about $2,000 in his pocket earlier in the day.

Rushing testified he is positive Justin Johnson is the man he saw at the door of Staten’s apartment. Under cross examination by Harrelson, Rushing said he told police after the shooting he was 80 percent sure from looking at Facebook photos but became more certain after seeing Justin Johnson in jail.

Mistie Houff, who was living with Bolton at the time of the shooting, testified that she saw lights in front of her house after midnight and went outside thinking it was Bolton. Houff said it appeared Justin Johnson was dropping off Bolton’s recently purchased SUV while another car waited. Houff said Justin Johnson shook his head when she asked where Bolton was and left without speaking.

Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday morning before the jury and Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson. Justin Johnson is charged with two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly pointing a gun at Gulley and her child as well as capital murder.

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