Johnston trial continues
Employees from the District 21 Medical Examiner’s Office and the State Fire Marshal’s Office testified Tuesday in the murder trial against alleged Cash Feenz defendant Kemar Johnston.
A 12-member Lee County jury, along with two alternate jurors, listened to the details of the autopsies conducted on Alexis Sosa, 18, and his nephew, Jeffrey Sosa, 14. Dr. Robert Pfalzgraf, deputy chief medical examiner for District 21, testified to the condition of the bodies and the cause and manner of death.
Pfalzgraf told the jury that Jeffrey’s shirt was torn, he was missing a sock and shoe from one foot and his ankles were tied with black shoe strings. The skin of his face had a “real thin film of black soot” – his body was discovered near a burning vehicle – but “his face was recognizable.”
Alexis had to be identified using DNA.
“It was clear that this body had been burned by fire. The body was unrecognizable,” he said. “The facial features were gone. The hands were burned away. Almost all of the skin was gone, and all that was left was the charred remnants of the torso and head and some of the extremities.”
In October 2006, the Sosas were hog-tied, beaten and tortured at a birthday party at a Cape Coral duplex. They were then driven to an industrial park in the north Cape, where they were fatally shot and the body of Alexis was burned in the trunk of a vehicle. Fire units discovered the car and bodies when they responded to a call about a fire at the site.
Johnston, 23, faces two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole or death.
During his testimony, Pfalzgraf said X-rays helped him locate three bullets inside Alexis’ torso, along with a pattern of lead dust indicating a gunshot wound to the head. Of the bullets recovered, one entered Alexis’ chest and punctured his lungs, and another entered his side, traveled though his spleen and small intestine and stopped in his colon.
Pfalzgraf called the third gunshot wound a lethal one. He said the bullet entered his chest, near the collarbone, and traveled through several organs, including his heart and aorta.
“It would have been a fatal wound,” Pfalzgraf said.
According to Pfalzgraf, there were seven gunshot wounds to Jeffrey’s body involving his face, thigh and arms. Two wounds, one to the back of the neck and one to the chest, were the fatal shots. Pfalzgraf said the gunshot to the chest went through Jeffrey’s heart, and a portion of his vertebra was hit by the gunshot to the back of the neck.
“He had a gunshot wound that was to the left side of the back of his neck” he said. “This would probably cause death within seconds or minutes.”
Pfalzgraf testified that there were scratches on Jeffrey’s chest and cuts on his back. He described one as an asterisk because it looked like “intersecting lines” made by a pointed object. Pfalzgraf said he could not determine if the cuts were made before or after Jeffrey was dead.
No soot or related evidence was found in the Sosas’ airways or lungs, leading Pfalzgraf to believe both were dead before the fire was ignited.
“Most fires will produce black soot, and when a person breathes, it goes down their airway or air pipes,” he said. “It is a quick check to see if someone was alive when a fire was burning.”
“It’s my opinion he had already died when the fire took place,” he later added of Alexis.
Toxicology reports revealed the Sosas together had a mix of drugs in their systems at the time of their deaths, including amphetamine, methamphetamine, a sedative called benzodiazepine, an antihistamine called diphenhydramine, cocaine and hydrocodone.
During cross-examination by defense attorney David A. Brener, Pfalzgraf told the jury that depending on which gunshots were fired first, the Sosas could have been paralyzed or lost consciousness, meaning they could have suffered little or no pain from the other gunshots.
“Many people die immediately. Some people, their heart keeps beating for a few seconds or minutes,” he said. “He (Jeffrey Sosa) may have died immediately or he could have continued to breathe, his heart could have kept beating.”
He said he could not tell who was shot first, the length of time between the gunshots or whether the Sosas were shot inside or outside of the vehicle. Pfalzgraf also was unable to determine how long Jeffrey had been dead before fire units discovered the crime scene.
“I can’t tell which way it happened,” he said of the sequence of the gunshots.
Brener questioned differences in the notes of Pfalzgraf and the notes of a forensic investigator with the District 21 Medical Examiner’s Office who was on scene at the industrial park. The positioning of Jeffrey’s body outside the vehicle and whether he might have been moved was also touched upon.
Detective Lisa Brower, with the arson bureau of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, also took the stand Tuesday. She testified that the vehicle found with the Sosas was “very heavily damaged by fire in the rear,” and that the burn patterns on the hood and doors indicated the fire traveled from the rear of the car toward the engine at the front.
“I believe the fire started in the rear passenger and trunk area,” Brower said.
She told the jury that she saw nothing that would indicate it was an electrical fire, and that she ruled out any accidental causes. Taking samples from inside the vehicle, Brower determined gasoline was applied to the rear seat area and lit, making it a case of arson.
“I believe this was an intentionally set fire,” she said.
Upon cross-examination by Brener, Brower testified that she could not be certain that the samples she tested for an accelerant, like gasoline, were from the passenger seat area due to the vehicle’s condition and the amount of burned debris left behind by the fire.
Ten people were arrested and charged in connection with the double murder.
Roderick Washington and Ashley Toye were found guilty following separate trials. Washington received four consecutive life sentences plus 30 years in prison, and Toye was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Melissa Rivera, Iriana Santos, Alexis Fernandez, Cody Roux and Michael Balint have each pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and will receive prison sentences varying between 14 years and 26 years in exchange for their testimony.
Kenneth “Ant” Lopez is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 1.
Paul Nunes, who pleaded guilty in August for a reduced sentence of 40 years, has a court date in March with his attorney, Melodee Smith. Reese appointed Smith to the case after Nunes requested that his plea deal, requiring that he testify against Lopez and Johnston, be withdrawn.
Johnston ‘s trial continues today at the Lee County Justice Center before 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas S. Reese. Assistant State Attorneys Bob Lee and Marie Doerr are prosecuting the case, and attorney Terry Lenamon is serving as co-counsel for the defense.