Jury Begins Deliberations in Murder Trial Against Irving Johnson

After six days of witness testimony, jurors in the murder trial against Irving Harris Johnson began deliberations Tuesday.

Johnson, 32, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and several assault and firearm charges in connection with the July 2011 shooting deaths of Domonique Barbour and Jimmie Lee Simmons III. Johnson is also charged with destruction of property and assault with intent to kill in connection with a shooting that occurred on June 21, 2011.

Prosecutors allege that Johnson shot Barbour, Simmons and another man, Anthony Thomas, a little before 6 a.m. on July 9, 2011; Thomas survived his injuries.

Barbour suffered three gunshot wounds; two to the face. Simmons suffered a single gunshot wound to the head.

At trial, a medical examiner testified that both Barbour and Simmons had gun powder tattooing around their wounds, indicating that the barrel of the gun had been within two feet of their bodies when it was fired.

A witness who was close friends with Barbour and Simmons testified that he and Johnson got into a fist fight following a basketball tournament in June 2011.

According to the witness, Johnson had been having a dispute with some of the witness’s friends, including Barbour. The witness approached Johnson in an effort to make peace, but Johnson “didn’t want to hear it.” The witness said Johnson then hit him and the two men engaged in a fight lasting seven minutes; jurors viewed a video of the fight which was recorded by a nearby surveillance camera.

Johnson lost the fight to the other man, Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner told the jury, and this upset him.

The witness said that after the fight Johnson told him “it’s never over.”

The witness testified that later that night, while outside his home, Johnson shot at him; the shooting damaged his mother’s vehicle. The witness said that he initially lied to police about being a target in that shooting because he “felt things were squashed.” After he learned about the deaths of Barbour and Simmons, the witness went to police and retold his story, according to testimony.

“He took something not serious and made it real serious,” the witness testified.

A cooperating government witness testified that while he was incarcerated with Johnson in Oct. 2011 the two of them communicated in the most secure way two inmates can: they spoke through the pipes of the toilets while they were flushing.

The witness said over the month he and Johnson were housed in adjacent cells, he and Johnson had several conversations about their cases.

The witness testified that Johnson told him that he had shot two people because of a physical altercation that had occurred some time ago; Johnson did not tell the witness who the altercation was with.

The witness said that Johnson’s original plan was to rob one of the men; but “someone made a certain move, so he pulled the trigger.”

The reason Johnson fired several shots, the witness said, is because “he didn’t want any witnesses.” Johnson also told him that he was now worried about cell phone tower information that the government could use to place him near the scene of the crime, according to trial testimony.

Prosecutors also showed the jury a handwritten note Johnson wrote in jail, in which he describes the crime in the first person, and references details that weren’t introduced as evidence in the case.

The cell phone tower information used to identify Johnson’s location on the night of both shootings in connection with this case was shown to the jury. A Sprint radio frequency engineer testified that although the phone Johnson owned did not have GPS technology to pinpoint his exact location, the records showed that Johnson’s phone was within a mile of each shooting location at the time of the incidents.

Johnson’s attorney, Liyah Brown, said the range was so wide it meant little. The mile radius meant someone tracking her phone wouldn’t know if she was at D.C. Superior Court, Gallery Place, the Newseum or walking on Pennsylvania Avenue, Brown said.

That is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Brown said.

Brown also argued that the government’s witnesses, including the jail inmate, were not reliable.

Outside the courtroom, Johnson’s mother, Stephanie, expressed concern about the government’s use of a cooperating witness.

“They’re trying to railroad my son,” she said. “How can they be credible?”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner told the jury it was the combined weight of the evidence, however circumstantial, that pointed to Johnson as the suspect.

Johnson fled to a relative’s house in Maryland after the shooting, Kirschner said. When U.S. Marshals eventually found him there, he tried to kick out a back door and flee, telling the agents, “How’d you find me?” as they took him into custody, Kirschner said.

The woman who called police about the shooting testified that people frequently gamble on the corner near her home in the 1300 block of Parkwood Place Northwest. She said she awoke to voices laughing outside her window around 3:30 a.m. on the morning of the shooting; she next awoke to the sound of gunshots.

The woman testified that when she looked out the window two men were standing on the sidewalk, and two men were lying on the ground. She immediately called police and ran out her front door, but when she got outside she only found Barbour and Simmons; the other men were gone, she testified.

Another witness testified that on the morning of the shooting between 5:30 and 6 a.m. he saw Barbour, Simmons, and Thomas gambling on the corner of Parkwood Place and 14th Street NW; he saw Johnson and a separate group of people gambling at the intersection of Parkwood Place and Center Street NW.

He later heard gunshots, but did not see the shooter, the witness testified.

A crime scene technician testified that over 120 pieces of evidence were recovered from the vicinity of the incident. Only one caliber of cartridge casings was discovered: 10mm. Several different colored dice, three one-dollar bills, and several bullet fragments were also recovered from the scene. No weapons of any kind were found, according to trial testimony.

After Anthony Thomas was transported to Washington Hospital police found a loaded .22 caliber revolver in his pants pocket; the gun contained no expended cartridges, the technician testified.

The jury is scheduled to continue its deliberations Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

Sam Pearson contributed reporting.

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