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Murder suspect bound over for trial

Friday, August 6, 2004

BENTON -- Brandon C. Johnson, accused of first degree murder and armed criminal action, sat quietly in the courtroom Thursday as Judge David Mann denied bond and assigned his next court date during his preliminary hearing.

Johnson, 23, of Charleston is scheduled to appear before Judge David Dolan Aug. 13 for an arraignment at the circuit court level. Johnson is charged for the May 9 shooting of 20-year-old Jemorrio A. Betts outside Mr. C's Night Club near Morley.

Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd began the hearing by calling to the stand, Robert "Bobby" Sullivan, a deputy with the Scott County Sheriff's Department.

Sullivan said after receiving a call, he responded around 12:40 a.m. and secured the scene until Capt. Jerry Bledsoe and Sheriff Bill Ferrell got there. He then went back to the Scott County Sheriff's Department to prepare a briefing for the Southeast Missouri Major Case Squad.

"We started getting calls - and the Sikeston Department of Public Safety and Mississippi County Sheriff's Department received calls that Mr. Betts had been shot by Brandon Johnson," Sullivan said.

Sullivan and Detective Mike Williams with the Sikeston DPS and Major Case Squad located Johnson and began interviewing him regarding the shooting.

"The first thing he said was, 'I wasn't involved in any shooting,'" Sullivan recalled.

According to Sullivan, Johnson gave three different alibis about his whereabouts on May 9.

When Sullivan found out Chance Kitchen of Charleston had been murdered around 3:30 a.m., he said he asked Johnson if he knew anybody by the last name of Kitchen; Johnson said he didn't.

"I explained to him that Chance Kitchen was killed in Charleston, and then he went on to say Chance Kitchen was a friend and they talked every once in a while, but they weren't tight," Sullivan told the prosecution.

After seeing photographs of a black hooded sweatshirt and .22 caliber revolver taken by Bledsoe at the scene, Sullivan asked Johnson if he owned or ever wore a black hooded sweatshirt. Johnson said he never owned and has never worn one.

"I said, 'If we get a sample of hair or any type of DNA off that sweatshirt, would it be possible it would come back and match you?' And he said yes. His explanation was he always wore his friends' clothes," Sullivan said.

Sullivan then asked Johnson if he owned a .22 caliber revolver, and Johnson said no.

"I asked him if at all possible would his fingerprints be on that gun. And he said yes and explained his friends have lots of guns and he's touched most of them," Sullivan said.

Following Sullivan's testimony, 20-year-old Dontay Clark of Charleston took the stand. Clark said he's known both Betts and Johnson all of his life and was with Betts the night he was killed.

When asked by the prosecution about the events leading up to the shooting at Mr. C's Night Club, Clark said he was riding with Betts and friends, Jaituan McCain and Tico Woods, in Bett's mother's car, a gold Grand Prix.

"We left Charleston and went to Sikeston just to hang out," Clark recalled. "We had no intentions of going to the club, but when we were in Sikeston, we thought we'd just go see how packed the club was."

On the way to Mr. C's on U.S. Highway 61, Clark said they saw two cars -- a Buick LeSabre and a Crown Victoria -- on the side of the road by the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center. He told the prosecution he saw several people standing outside and recognized the vehicles. The Crown Victoria belonged to Kitchen, and Clark noted he saw Johnson, who was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and red sweatpants.

Clark and friends proceeded to Mr. C's with Betts driving; Woods in the front passenger seat; Clark and McCain in the back seat, Clark said.

When they arrived at Mr. C's the parking lot was so crowded they decided to leave but after they tried to turn around in the parking lot, the Buick LeSabre and Crown Victoria were blocking them in, Clark said.

When questioned by defense lawyer Derek Williams, Clark explained how the situation at Mr. C's arose: "There was a blue Trailblazer in front of us and we pulled to the side of it, thinking we'd be able to get out and the other two cars (Buick LeSabre and Crown Victoria) were in front of us. They were blocking the pathway where none of us could get out. There was one way in and one way out."

Next, Clark said, he saw a silver pistol that looked like a .22 caliber and said the person doing the shooting had on a black hoodie with a drawstring. "It was tied tight around the face, but not tight enough that I couldn't see it," he said. Clark testified the shooter was two or three feet away and in the front passenger side. The defense attorney asked how Clark saw the shooter.

"When the first shot went off, I looked up at the window like this," Clark said as he demonstrated putting his hands in front of his chest and part of his face. "And then all I could do was take cover for myself."

Clark told the prosecution he saw Johnson at Betts' funeral.

Boyd asked Clark if he had any doubt that Brandon Johnson is the one who shot Jemorrio Betts on May 9. Clark replied: "I ain't got no doubt -- I know."

McCain was the third witness called by the prosecution. He also said he and his friends were trying to leave the club, but the two cars would not move when asked.

McCain said: "Brandon came toward the car, and 'Morrio' yelled out 'Run!' but we didn't know what he was talking about and that's when I seen Brandon coming toward the car. He was wearing a black hoodie and coming toward the passenger, and he walked up with a gun."

McCain told the prosecution he was sure it was Brandon Johnson who pulled the trigger of the revolver. During his testimony, McCain said he had known both Betts and Johnson for about 10 years, and when asked by the defense when he and Johnson quit being "tight," McCain said "since he shot my boy."

Scott County Capt. Jerry Bledsoe was the final witness to testify Thursday and noted evidence found included blood on the parking lot, several articles of change, a bloody towel, .22 caliber revolver and a black hooded sweatshirt.

Bledsoe noted the revolver and sweatshirt were found approximately 250-200 feet south of Mr. C's on Highway 61. The articles of evidence were about 15-20 feet apart from each other. Bledsoe pointed out the black clothing was in good condition and hadn't been there a long time.

When the defense questioned Bledsoe about the current whereabouts of the gun and sweatshirt, Bledsoe said he thought they were at the crime lab.

Prior to Mann assigning a court date, Boyd presented Betts' death certificate to the court, and the defense lawyer argued the state has failed to show deliberation of the defendant.

Johnson is being held at the Scott County Jail.