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Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Tomeikia Johnson Murder Case

     Off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Tomeikia Johnson and her husband Marcus Lemons started arguing while having drinks on February 21, 2009 at the T.G.I. Friday bar in Compton, California. At 11PM, after the 32-year-old cop paid the bill, she and Lemons, a barber and locally known amateur bowler, left the restaurant with the CHP officer behind the wheel. About an hour later, Johnson pulled up to her parents' Compton home with her husband's dead body in the BMW. Lemons had been shot point-blank in the head with his wife's handgun. Johnson's mother called 911.

     Pending the results of the homicide investigation conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, the CHP re-assigned Johnson to desk duty. She told investigators that she and her husband, after they left the bar, continued to fight. When she pulled the car off the road, he became physical. As they struggled for control of the gun, it went off and killed him. According to her account of the shooting, she was defending herself against an abusive husband.

     Detectives looking into the shooting believed that Johnson had pulled the car off the road, reached into her purse, took out her gun, and shot Lemons in the head. The Los Angeles County deputy district attorney handling the case believed that Johnson had murdered her husband. In January 2011, sheriff's deputies arrested Tomeikia Johnson on the charge of first-degree murder as she sat at her CHP desk. (From the beginning, the CHP had cooperated with the investigation.) Initially held in the county jail on $2 million bond, Johnson made her bail and was released.

     In January 2012, with the defendant's family seated on one side of the courtroom, and her dead husband's relatives gathered in the other half of the gallery, the Johnson trial got underway in downtown Los Angeles. In her opening statement to the jury, Deputy District Attorney Natalie Adomian laid out the prosecution's theory of the shooting. According to the prosecutor, after Johnson pulled the BMW off the road, she pulled out her gun, pressed the muzzle against his head, and pulled the trigger.

     Over the next several days, Adomian, to support the prosecution's assertion that the killing had been intentional, put a blood spatter interpretation analyst as well as a gunshot residue expert on the stand. The experts testified that the pattern and location of the blood and powder staining did not support the defendant's account of the shooting. The forensic scientists were followed by a series of witnesses who portrayed the defendant as having an aggressive personality and a drinking problem. These witnesses characterized Marcus Lemons as a peaceful, nonviolent husband who had taken a lot of abuse from his wife. Since Johnson hadn't confessed, and there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial.

     To establish that his client had been an abused wife, and that the shooting had occurred during a life and death struggle for the gun, attorney Darryl Stallworth put the defendant on the stand realizing that the outcome of the case depended upon Tomeikia Johnson's credibility. Stallworth, to make the case for his client's innocence, had to put Marcus Lemons on trial. He had to attack a dead man, always a risky move in a murder trial.

     According to the defendant, a week before her husband died while trying to kill her, he had given her reason to fear for her life. They had gotten into an argument while driving back to Los Angeles from a bowling tournament in Las Vegas. She told him to stop the car, and when he pulled off the road, she ran to a nearby truck stop and called 911 and reported that her husband had gotten possession of her gun and wanted to kill her. (No charges were filed against Lemons.) Johnson also testified that in 2008, Lemons had attacked her in a Las Vegas hotel room, injuring her neck. No charges were filed in that case either.

     After giving testimony intended to establish Marcus Lemons as the abuser in the marriage, Johnson provided her account of how he had died: After leaving the T.G.I. Friday bar in Compton, she and Lemons continued to argue. He became so angry he reached over and started choking her, forcing her to pull off the highway. He grabbed the keys out of the ignition and told her to walk home. She climbed out of the BMW and started running. Worried that he would take the gun out of her purse (left behind in the car) and shoot her, she returned to the vehicle. As she and her husband reached for the gun, it fell to the ground. When she picked it up, the pistol went off, killing him.

     "Did you want to fire that weapon?" asked the attorney.

     "No."

     "Did you want to kill your husband?"

      "No," the defendant replied.

     The defense rested. Following the closing arguments and the judge's legal instructions, the case went to the jury. If jurors believed Johnson's account of the shooting, they would acquit her. If not, she would not be walking out of the courthouse a free person.

     On January 23, 2012, the jury, after deliberating slightly more than a day, found Tomeikia Johnson guilty of first-degree murder. She fainted, and paramedics rushed to the defense table and wheeled her out of the courtroom on a gurney.

     At Johnson's March 9, 2012 sentencing hearing before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry, her attorney asked the judge to reduce the murder charge to manslaughter. Judge Perry denied the request and sentenced Johnson to 50 years to life. Apparently the judge didn't buy her story either. As Johnson wept, her mother yelled "I love you Tomiekia!" This set off a raucous back and forth in the gallery between the opposing families.

     

     

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