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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Johnson found guilty

Sunday, January 7, 2007

People check into the courtroom for the murder trial of Brandon C. Johnson in the Mississippi County Court House.
CHARLESTON -- A Charleston man was found guilty Friday for the May 2004 murder at Mr. C's Night Club near Morley following a two-day jury trial.

After deliberating for nearly three and a half hours, the jury found Brandon C. Johnson, 25, guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action for the shooting death of Jemorrio A. Betts, 20, of Charleston, on May 9, 2004.

The trial was held at the Mississippi County Courthouse with Judge William Seay of the 42nd Circuit Court Division 1 presiding on a change of venue and judge.

Johnson's trial was originally scheduled to take place in May 2006 but was rescheduled when a defense attorney failed to appear.

Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd, who called 11 witnesses during the trial, described the incident as "ambush, deliberate premeditated murder in the first degree."

Boyd described how Betts and three friends -- Dontay Clark, Jaituan McCain and Tico Woods -- were heading northbound on Highway 61 to Mr. C's from Sikeston when they spotted two cars on the southbound side of the road by the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center.

Clark reportedly saw Johnson near the cars wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and red sweatpants.

After arriving at Mr. C's, "both cars follow Jemorrio's car into the lot," Boyd said, blocking him in.

Boyd said as Betts attempted to maneuver his car out of the parking lot, a person approached the passenger side of the vehicle wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled tightly around his face.

"They got ambushed: pop pop pop!" Boyd said. "Both Dontay and Jaituan knew the shooter as Brandon Johnson."

Following the shooting at about 12:39 a.m., Betts entered the night club and collapsed on the floor, according to police reports. He was then pronounced dead at around 1 a.m. at Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston.

Dr. Michael D. Zaricor, a pathologist at the Mineral Area Regional Medical Center in Farmington, testified Friday that his autopsy determined the bullet that killed Betts struck a rib and changed direction to hit his lung and aorta.

"Within three or four minutes, he bled to death," Zaricor said. He said the cause of death was blood loss due to the gunshot wound.

Key evidence for the prosecution included a .22-caliber revolver believed to be the murder weapon and a black hooded sweatshirt found by investigators within a couple hours of the incident about 15-20 feet apart from each other and 200-250 feet from Mr. C's on Highway 61.

"This is what they call a 'throwaway' -- you shoot someone and get rid of it," Boyd said of the weapon.

"The best evidence," he said, "is the words from the defendant's mouth."

Johnson, who was arrested within a couple of hours of the incident, "told officers at least six different stories," according to Boyd, starting with outright denials but then, when faced with evidence, making "admissions toward guilt" without confessing to the shooting.

The prosecutor noted how Johnson first denied knowing Chance Kitchen of Charleston, who was also killed that same night, but later admitted they were friends.

Boyd said Johnson also told investigators he never owned and has never worn a black hooded sweatshirt but then, when asked if a hair or DNA sample from the black hoodie could end up matching his, said he wears friends' clothes at times.

Johnson also reportedly denied owning a .22 caliber revolver but then said under questioning that it was possible his fingerprints could be found on one of his friend's guns as he has touched most of them.

If not guilty, Boyd said, "all he had to do was tell the simple truth the first time. ... Why lie about simple things?"

During the trial, defense attorney Derrick Williams called several witnesses from Missouri State Highway Patrol crime labs who testified they were unable to match DNA evidence collected from the black hoodie to Johnson.

"We know there is no physical evidence connecting Brandon to the death of Jemorrio Betts," Williams said during closing arguments. "There is no physical evidence connecting Brandon to that murder."

"I'm glad it worked out for us," said the victim's father, William Betts of Charleston, following the trial.

Any time there is an ambush, Boyd said, "that's a planned murder ... premeditated, cold-blooded murder."

The next hearing, for post trial motions, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 27. Sentencing may occur during this hearing if the sentencing advisory report has been completed at that time.

Johnson is presently serving a sentence in the Missouri Department of Corrections on another conviction, according to Boyd.