Jury Deliberations Begin in Murder Trial Against Johnnie Sweet

By the prosecutor’s estimation, the death of 18-year-old Latisha Frazier is not a “who done it.”

“By the defendant’s own words, he is guilty, guilty, guilty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams said in closing arguments Monday.

That defendant, Johnnie Sweet, is accused of taking part in a brutal “peer pressure” fueled beating. A beating in which Frazier was hit, stomped, kicked, choked, gagged, tied up, and left for dead. Days later, Frazier’s body was taken to a dumpster. She was never found.

In closing arguments, James Rudasill Jr., Sweet’s defense attorney, argued that although the beating took place in Sweet’s home, Sweet was not the ring leader of the group that conducted the beating.

Rudasill argued that Brian Gaither, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in November in connection with the case, administered a fatal chokehold. That chokehold makes Gaither more culpable, Rudasill argued, adding that Sweet intended to “beat Frazier and then put her out of the apartment.”

Sweet is charged with felony murder, first-degree premeditated murder, kidnapping and evidence tampering in connection with the August 2010 brutal beating death of 18-year-old Latisha Frazier. Several other youths have already pled guilty to assisting Sweet in the beating. Frazier’s body, though, was never recovered.

The week-long trial came to an end Monday afternoon and jurors were sent to begin deliberations at about 4:30 p.m.

Though neither Sweet nor Gaither testified at the trial, jurors heard testimony from one of the young women connected to the case. Lanee Bell, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping Frazier, testified that Frazier’s beating was instigated and orchestrated by Sweet after he discovered $900 missing from his personal belongings.

Sweet told detectives that he suspected Frazier as the thief because “she was the only one in the room” moments before he realized the money was taken.

Bell said that on August 2, 2010, Sweet convinced her, Gaither, and others to join him in beating and stomping Frazier in the corner of a small bedroom in Sweet’s home.

A few minutes later Sweet went to the front door and returned to the bedroom with his arm around Frazier’s neck as if they were friends, Bell said. Still dressed in her McDonald’s uniform, Frazier sat in a chair and then Sweet closed the bedroom door and said, “Ain’t nobody about to leave.”

“I didn’t know this was going to happen,” Bell testified. “It was like a peer pressure thing.”

Said prosecutor Melinda Williams, “Latisha Frazier was betrayed by people she considered friends.”

“And she was shown no mercy.”

Sweet, Cinthya Proctor and Brian Gaither later attempted to dismember Frazier’s body, but failed. The body was then tossed into a dumpster in the 1700 block of Trenton Place Southeast by Gaither and Antoine McCullough, McCullough testified.

Ronald Olive, an expert in landfill excavation, testified that he “tracked the trash” from Trenton Place SE to the Shoosmith Landfill in Chesterfield County, Virginia, where he believes that Frazier’s body is now located.

Olive said that between August 2010 and February 2011 the landfill had grown 100 feet deep, making it “extremely dangerous” to attempt to uncover Frazier’s body. Moreover, MPD would have had to relocate 30-40 police officers to Chesterfield County to oversee the excavation; and methane pipes buried within the search area posed an “extremely high risk” of explosion, Olive said.

“The odds are not in their favor of going into a landfill and finding a body,” Olive told the court. “Landfills are not meant to be excavated.”

Crime Scene Investigators with the Metropolitan Police Department used a skill saw to remove a piece of wood flooring from right behind the bedroom door where Bell testified Sweet had stomped Frazier. Andrea Borchardt-Gardner, a forensic DNA analyst, testified that she “cracked open” a portion of the floor board and found human blood, which was then processed to obtain a DNA profile.

Cheek swabs were also taken from both Caroline Frazier and Barry Campbell, Frazier’s biological parents, and a reverse paternity comparison was conducted.

Dr. Robert Bever determined that the DNA profile from the wood floor was 50.6 billion times more likely to belong to the female child of Caroline and Barry than to unrelated individuals of African American descent, according to a stipulation read at trial.

James Rudasill Jr., Sweet’s defense attorney, said that Sweet abandoned the plan to “beat Frazier and then put her out of the apartment,” because he was afraid of Gaither.

In a police interrogation video viewed at trial, Sweet admits to detectives that he punched and “stomped” Frazier, but says that Gaither placed Frazier in a choke hold because “she was in the closet making noises.” Sweet also said that Gaither told him to keep quiet, or he was going to “beat the s— out of him.”

Tawanna Westry, a transportation officer with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, testified that on February 3, 2011, when Sweet was first brought into custody, she overheard him and another cellmate having a conversation:

“What are you in for?” the cellmate asked.

“They’re trying to give me a body,” Sweet responded.

“Don’t go out like that.”

“I’m not copping to that s—. I’m taking it to trial. At least I didn’t shoot the b—; I did it with my bare hands,” Sweet said.

Jury deliberations will resume Tuesday morning.

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