What had promised to be one of the more sensational murder trials in St. Louis took an unexpected turn this week when the defendant used an unusual confession in the case. I suspect the defendant is setting the stage for an insanity defense. And I also suspect he won't be successful.
Kirkwood Police Sgt. William McEntee was savagely murdered in July 2005 by a man who casually walked up to his police cruiser and shot him seven times. Witnesses said the man was 21-year-old Kevin Johnson.
Police had been called to the Johnson household earlier in the day when Johnson's 12-year-old brother had difficulty breathing. The young boy died from what medical officials said was a heart condition. But the older Johnson thought police had not done enough to save his brother. So he apparently sought revenge when he spotted the police cruiser.
Johnson denied the shooting but this week - in a move that has puzzled everyone - Johnson said he was in a "trance" when he shot the policeman seven times. The officer was a married father of three children.
Johnson told the court that the officer looked at him and that caused Johnson to enter a trance and fire the weapon. When the police cruiser - still in gear - slowly moved in the roadway, Johnson approached the vehicle and fired one more shot. The officer was dead at the scene.
Johnson was on probation for an earlier assault and he feared police would arrest him as they investigated his brother's sudden death. He said the murder was not in retaliation for his brother's death although that's the story he had apparently told others.
When the smoke clears in this case, Kevin Johnson will face conviction and the death penalty. It's just another example of a street thug taking violent action into his own hands. It is not the first nor will it be the last. That much is certain.
If you believe his "trance" story, then you're a party of one. Kevin Johnson is a product of his environment and his culture. The rule of the street is strike first, seek revenge and hold no regard for human life. Kevin Johnson did just that. And for that, he should be executed.
There may be no solution to the culture of violence that marks some neighborhoods. Despite the potential solutions of more education, more resources and more jobs, the culture of violence is a separate issue. This culture is not the result of some action or inaction by society as a whole. The disease starts at the roots of that culture. And sadly, there is no end in sight.