Johnston jury retires for the evening
The jury in the Kemar Johnston double-murder trial was sequestered in motel rooms Thursday night after deliberating about three hours, but not before giving the judge a question.
Judge Thomas Reese told them before releasing them for the night that he and the attorneys would discuss it. The question was not disclosed in open court but the attorneys were allowed to read it. Reese and the attorneys discussed it at sidebar.
Reese then announced court was recessed until Friday morning.
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 jury received the case at 6 p.m. and discussed it until 9 p.m. Judge Thomas Reese told the jury deliberations would begin again at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
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 On Dec. 28, he requested that his plea deal, which required him to testify against Johnston and Lopez, be withdrawn.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.
Defense attorney Terry Lenamon said during closing remarks to the jury that a lot of evidence was never sent to Florida Department of Law Enforcement for testing.
The investigation was sloppy, he said. Cape Coral police focused in on Johnston at the beginning because the October 2006 birthday party was at his house.
The defense pointed out that Cape Coral police have not investigated many killings and that Det. Kurt Grau had worked only two or three other homicides.
Assistant State Attorney Bob Lee conceded the investigation was “sloppy” but said there was enough evidence to convict Johnston of murder.
Assistant State Attorney Marie Doerr said the evidence showed there was a group of people looking for direction and it resulted in the slayings of Jeffrey Sosa, 14, and his uncle, Alex Sosa, 18.
A lot of the things that occurred were awful, she said.
“If you take just one act, … it’s enough to make you cringe,” she said. “It’s almost incomprehensible.”
She explained that nine people were indicted on first-degree murder charges. Ten people have been charged in connection with the case.
“It’s almost impossible to comprehend their young lives could come to a violent end,” Doerr said.
Several of the defendants didn’t know the Sosas.
But, Johnston told everyone what to do which led up to the killings, she said.
“It took this group mentality,” she said. “This mob mentality until it escalated and escalated and got out of control.”
The Sosas were punched, pistol-whipped, tied up, tortured, cut with knifes, had bleach poured on them and were shot. Alex Sosa was placed in the trunk of a car and burned, evidence and previous statements show.
“While all of this is going on, there’s still a party going on,” Doerr said. “No one called for help.”
The Sosas went to the party even though they weren’t invited, she said.
“Why didn’t somebody just ask them to leave? If you think they are armed or you have a problem with them, tell them to leave,” she said. “Instead, just the opposite happened. They are surrounded. They are outnumbered. How can you make sense of all of this?”
When Lenamon addressed the jury, he told them the community was outraged and should have been by what occurred on Oct. 6 and 7, 2006 in Cape Coral.
“Each of you promised me and Mr. (David) Brener and Mr. Johnston that you would not allow what happened in the news and in this small, one-time sleepy town (to influence the jury’s decision,” Lenamon said.
He explained the defense’s position that other people were more involved than Johnston. Some changed their stories, others lied, something that Lee took offense to Lenamon saying during closing arguments.
Lenamon pointed out that there were many inconsistencies in the prosecution’s witnesses’ statements throughout the case – from the beginning to the end.
He called it a complicated case because “each individual lies over and over and changes their stories and then lies again.”
He admitted Johnston did some illegal things, but “not what the prosecution contends.”
Paul Nunes, who has entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors but has asked to withdraw that plea – “told you with a straight face that my client was working at rib city as a dishwasher as a front for his drug dealing. More important than him, he was just trying to get himself out of trouble.”