Closing arguments expected today in Johnston murder trial
In an unusual twist, if the jury in the Kemar Johnston double-murder trial can’t come to a verdict by sundown Friday, they will be allowed to go home for the weekend even though they will be sequestered tonight. if no verdict is reached.
Closing arguments will be given and the jury will be given the case today. If they cannot reach a verdict, they will be sequestered. However because of one juror’s religious faith, she cannot participate from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. She is the only black juror and is a Seventh Day Adventist.
Other jurors attend church on Sunday and one has to be at work at 7 a.m. Monday for about an hour, a spokeswoman for the jury told Judge Thomas Reese.
Defense attorney David Brener said he was concerned that an option the judge gave — give closing arguments on Thursday and bring the jury back Monday to begin deliberations.
“It’s been my experience that jurors tend to remember the evidence better when they hear it, and they have a closing argument closer to the time of deliberations,” he said.
The defense, and Johnston himself, told Reese they were fine with the jury being allowed to go home Friday night even though they would be sequestered Thursday. Assistant State Attorney Bob Lee said he would stipulate to the request, but only if it was clear the prosecution was not the side asking for the move. Typically once a jury begins deliberations and is sequestered, it is for the duration until a verdict is reached or the jury is deadlocked and cannot make a decision.
A state law allows for both sides to stipulate to allowing the sequestration to end.
During the discussions with the jury, one of Johnston’s relatives began to cry and left the courtroom. She later came back, but again left in tears, motioning for another family member to call her.
While Reese was discussing possibilities with the jury, he told them he didn’t want them to feel rushed.
The jury spokeswoman said: “Overall, the group is interested in finishing our job as efficiently as possible. We want to start as early as possible.”
After the defense called witnesses Wednesday morning to identify photographs and go over evidence, Reese told Johnston — outside of the jury’s hearing — that he could testify if he wished, but it would open him up to cross-examination by the prosecution. Or, Reese said, he could remain silent and the judge would admonish the jury not to infer any guilt from his silence.
“I wish to remain silent,” he said in a soft-spoken voice.
Reese also queried him on whether he believes his attorneys have properly represented him and he said yes.
Johnston, who is an alleged ring-leader of the Cash Feenz gang, faces the death-penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of the charges against him in connection with the October 2006 slayings of Jeffrey Sosa, 14, and his 18-year-old uncle Alexis Sosa.
The Sosas had attended a birthday party at a duplex in Cape Coral and were beaten, zapped with a Taser, cut with a knife and hog-tied. They were driven to an industrial area in North Cape Coral and shot. Cape Coral fire units responding to a reported car fire found the bodies. Alexis Sosa’s body was found in the trunk of the car. He had been burned.
The defense has brought out during testimony that many other people — witnesses who were either at the party or connected to evidence presented in the case — have not been charged.
Johnston is charged with two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Ten people were arrested and charged in connection with the Sosas’ deaths.
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 Lopez’s trial is scheduled for Feb. 1.
Paul Nunes, who pleaded guilty in August for a reduced sentence of 40 years in prison, recently was appointed new counsel. On Dec. 28, he requested that his plea deal, which required him to testify against Johnston and Lopez, be withdrawn. He still testified, even though his request to withdraw his plea has yet to be ruled on.
During arguments to the jury, Assistant State Attorney Marie Doerr and defense attorney Terry Lenamon described for jurors an October 2006 birthday party that ended with the deaths of 18-year-old Alexis Sosa and 14-year-old Jeffrey Sosa and the arrests of 10 young people charged in connection with the double murder.
The prosecution argued that Johnston played a main role in the killings, while the defense argued that he did not, that he had no real reason to hurt the victims.