Johnston trial penalty phase to commence
The penalty phase in the double murder trial of Kemar Johnston is set to begin Tuesday at the Lee County Justice Center in Fort Myers.
Johnson, 23, was found guilty Jan. 30 in the October 2006 torture and slaying of Alexis Sosa, 18, and his 14-year-old nephew, Jeffrey Sosa. It took a jury two days and five hours of deliberations to find him guilty of two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Johnston faces life in prison without parole or death.
At 9 a.m. Monday, motions that have been filed in the case will be heard by 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas S. Reese. According to Samantha Syoen, spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, the penalty phase will follow at 9 a.m. Tuesday with both sides to call witnesses and present factors to support their case.
“It’s like another trial with the same jurors,” she said. “You’ll hear different things that weren’t allowed to be said in the first trial.”
After both sides are heard, the jury will recommend a sentence to Reese. Syoen said the decision does not have to be unanimous, only a majority vote from jurors is required. The judge will consider the jury’s recommendation but will make the final decision on Johnston’s sentence at a later date.
“It could take the majority of the week,” she said of the penalty phase. “There’s no time limit.”
Defense attorney and co-counsel Terry Lenamon agreed.
“It will probably take all week,” he said.
Attorney David A. Brener, lead counsel for the defense, intends to handle the penalty phase of the case.
“We intend to present evidence of Mr. Johnston’s upbringing, his life in Jamaica and his academic performance, his total whole life picture, the good deeds that he has done in his life,” he said. “There will also be some experts testifying about his level of functioning.”
Brener said the experts will be doctors and they will discuss his client’s level of functioning in general and at the time of the murders.
“It’s my belief that the jury convicted Mr. Johnston under the felony murder rule, which allows for the conviction of one person for the acts of another,” he said. “That may get you a conviction, but there is a world of difference between felony murder and cold, pre-calculated pre-mediated murder in terms of the death penalty.”
Brener would not comment on how Johnston’s family has been since the conviction, but he said the defense is anticipating the penalty phase.
“The defense is looking forward to presenting the mitigating factors and entrusting this jury with Kemar’s life,” he said.
Johnston was one of 10 people arrested and charged in connection to the murders.
The Sosas were hog-tied, beaten and tortured at a Cape Coral duplex during a birthday party. 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.
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’s trial is scheduled for May 17.
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 against Johnston, although his plea withdrawal request has yet to be ruled on.
Assistant State Attorneys Bob Lee and Marie Doerr are prosecuting the case.