Prosecution testimony continues at Johnston trial
As the state continued to call witnesses Thursday to testify in the murder trial of Kemar Johnston, accounts varied on what happened at an October 2006 birthday party that ended in the deaths of two teens.
Alexis Sosa, 18, and his nephew, 14-year-old Jeffrey Sosa, were hog-tied, beaten and tortured at a Cape Coral duplex where the party was held. They were then driven to an industrial park in the north Cape, where they were fatally shot and Alexis’ body was placed in the truck of a car and set on fire. Emergency units responding to a call about a possible fire discovered the car in flames and Jeffrey’s body lying nearby.
Johnston, 23, was one of 10 people charged in connection to the double homicide. He faces two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. If Johnston is convicted, he faces life in prison without parole, or death.
Three witnesses, people who attended the party, testified Thursday before a 12-member jury about what they reportedly saw and heard at the duplex and who they say was involved. As with the two witnesses called by state Wednesday to take the stand, some of their recollections of what happened that night were the same, while other parts of their testimonies conflicted.
Andrew Touchstone told the jury Thursday that he saw the Sosas enter the party and that nothing happened at first. He thought they were simply there to party like everyone else.
“I didn’t think there was going to be a problem,” Touchstone said.
Jennifer Dunning told the jury a different story. She called the Sosas’ appearance at the party unexpected, and said her attention was drawn to the two immediately because Paul Nunes – one co-defendant in the case -began to argue with Alexis. Another co-defendant in the case, Roderick Washington, then searched the Sosas and took their cell phones.
“It was normal before they (the Sosas) were there,” she said.
According to Dunning, Johnston began telling the Sosas, “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” and then hit Alexis in the head with a firearm. She said she believes that Washington was in possession of a weapon too. Touchstone was unsure about whether Washington or Johnson had a firearm, but he said co-defendant Cody Roux had one.
Roux was the state’s third witness to testify Thursday. The only co-defendant to testify Thursday, he told the jury that he was outside smoking marijuana with some others when someone came outside yelling that people were trying to crash the party. He went into the kitchen and found the Sosas. Roux stated that people were “screaming and yelling” at the two, and he initiated a one-on-one fight with Alexis while everyone watched.
“I thought he was trying to wreck the birthday party,” Roux said of Alexis. “It was just a quick little fight.”
Roux testified that after he withdrew from the scuffle, Touchstone grabbed dishes and plates and hit Alexis with them. Someone else swung at Alexis and soon everyone in the kitchen was beating on the older Sosa. According to Roux, Touchstone went for Jeffrey but he stopped him, telling Touchstone to let Jeffrey be, that he had nothing to do with what was going on – Roux had lived with the Sosas at one point in time.
Dunning testified that she heard a recorded voice message, reportedly of Alexis threatening to kill someone’s family, played on speaker from a cell phone before the fighting began. She said it was someone, but not Johnston, who played the message, while William Arciszewski testified Wednesday that is was Johnston who played the message out loud for party-goers.
Roux told the jury that he never heard a voice message played, but admitted that he was given a rifle by Johnston after his fight with Alexis. He said he left the kitchen and was in a bedroom when Johnston entered. Suddenly spooked when some police cruisers drove past the duplex with their lights and sirens active, Johnston retrieved the rifle and gave it to Roux, who kept it in his possession until he left the party.
Roux also testified that he saw Touchstone and Dunning’s boyfriend at the time burglarize Alexis’ car – the one found at the industrial site with his body in the trunk, according to expert witnesses – the night of the party. In their testimonies, Touchstone denied burglarizing the car and Dunning denied knowing anything about a car burglary.
Touchstone also denied hitting or attacking Alexis the night of the party.
Neither Touchstone, nor Dunning, nor Dunning’s boyfriend, were charged with any crime in connection to the slayings.
Defense attorney Terry Lenamon pointed out to the state’s witnesses other disparities in their stories. He also compared against one another what the witnesses testified to, what they told the police, sometimes in numerous statements, and what their depositions said.
The trial continues at 9 p.m. today at the Lee County Justice Center in Fort Myers before 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas S. Reese. Assistant State Attorneys Bob Lee and Marie Doerr are prosecuting the case, and David A. Brener is co-counsel for the defense.
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, 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.
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.