Lazy eye, DNA key in second trial of man charged in downtown Cleveland apartment double-slaying

July 24, 2018

Lazy eye, DNA key in second trial of man charged in downtown Cleveland apartment double-slaying

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- James Johnson’s lazy eye and DNA evidence will be enough for jurors to find Johnson guilty of murdering his longtime friend and another man in 2016, a prosecutor told a jury on Tuesday. 

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Brian Radigan said jurors will also hear that Johnson left Cleveland for Michigan immediately after the killing, while police here were trying to track him down and arrest him.

The comments were delivered during opening statements in Johnson’s second trial in the January 2016 execution-style killing of his friend, Rashaad Bandy, and Bandy’s roommate, Brandon James. 

Those pieces of evidence were also delivered in Johnson’s first trial, in which prosecutors sought the death penalty. That trial ended with Common Pleas Court Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula declaring a mistrial, and prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty.

Sutula barred lawyers from disclosing the reason for the mistrial but Johnson’s attorneys, John Gibbons and Kevin Cafferkey, quickly filed requests with the court to obtain the personnel file of and other records related to Damon Johnson, an arson detective with Cleveland fire and police.

Damon Johnson, who is related to both Bandy and James Johnson, was under investigation for a real estate deal involving property previously owned by Bandy at the time he testified in the January trial. That investigation was not disclosed during trial.

Johnson was indicted last week alongside local developer Arthur Fayne on theft and fraud charges related to the deal. He is set to appear in court on July 31.

Damon Johnson testified in January that, the morning after the shooting, he was at an East Side gas station pumping gas when he spotted Johnson drive into the parking lot, toss a bag into a trash bin and then drive off. He said he went to the bin and found a pair of Timberland boots inside the bag. Prosecutors said video from the apartment building showed the shooter wore the same type of boots. 

Prosecutors cannot introduce the boots in Johnson’s second trial without calling Damon Johnson to testify that he found them, so the jury is unlikely to hear that evience.

Prosecutors instead will have to rely on the other evidence they presented at Johnson’s first trial to tie him to the Jan. 23, 2016 killings.

Several witnesses testified that the shooter had a lazy eye, and so does Johnson, Radigan said. And police found Johnson’s DNA on the handle of another apartment on the same floor as Bandy’s, after the resident said someone opened his door before police arrived. That door sits right below an exit sign and Radigan said Johnson, in a hurry to escape after he just shot two men, thought the door led into the stairwell.

Cafferkey questioned why Johnson would shoot a family friend and why there were no fingerprints or DNA from the shooter found inside Bandy and James’s apartment. And he said the defense had sought their own test on the DNA from the door, but the sample had been consumed and could no longer be retested.

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