Suspects in Jamail Johnson case endure pretrial
Published: Monday, October 10, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 10, 2011 22:10
Nearly eight months later, family and friends of the injured, as well as an entire community, are seeking closure in the death of Jamail Johnson as the suspects in his alleged murder face trial.
The five suspects in February's shooting on Indiana Avenue appeared in front of Judge John M. Durkin of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Friday for their pretrial.
Brothers Columbus Jones Jr., 22, and Mark Jones, 20, both of Cambridge Avenue, are facing life sentences for felony murder charges.
Jamelle Jackson, 19, of West Boston Avenue, and Brandon Carter, 22, of East Ravenwood Avenue, are facing charges of obstructing justice, a third-degree felony, which holds a punishment of up to five years in prison.
Demetrius Wright, 21, of West Avondale Avenue, is charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a felony of the fourth degree, and he could face up to 18 months in prison.
The courtroom was near capacity, with relatives of the suspects filling the benches.
Not in attendance were Shirlene Hill and Sidney Hill, Johnson's mother and stepfather. Had they been informed, they would have been present.
"Normally they send us a [notification] two weeks in advance," Shirlene Hill said.
The Hills were disturbed that no one from the court let them know.
"My son gave his life for 35 people, and the city of Youngstown can't call his mother? [They act] like my son's life means nothing," Shirlene Hill said. "I am truly disappointed in the system."
The Jones brothers smiled and blew kisses to their family members, while Jackson, Wright and Carter remained solemn.
"Honestly, it makes me angry," said Carl Davison, vice president of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. "But it makes me more sad that there isn't [enough] pressure put on them."
Davison was one of Johnson's fraternity brothers and was in attendance at the party on Feb. 6.
Thomas Tecker, Johnson's uncle, said the shooting still resonates through the community.
"When they killed Jamail, they killed a lot of people. They dashed a lot of hopes and dreams," he said. "They actually killed a neighborhood. It's like a ripple effect. Everybody dies."
Johnson's death also sent shockwaves through the family. Tecker held the unfortunate duty of notifying his sister, Shirlene Hill, of Jamail's death.
"I feel guilty for calling her. It makes me want to cry," Tecker said. "I have trouble with that every day."
Tecker said their relationship isn't the same anymore.
During the pretrial, Thomas Zena, Mark Jones' attorney, said he'd be filing a motion regarding media coverage of the trial.
"The publicity on this case continues on a daily basis," he said.
He intends to file for a special jury procedure, voir dire, during the case. Voir dire is the process by which potential jurors are questioned about their background and history before being selected for the jury. Given a conflict of interest, a juror can be rejected by either the defense or prosecuting attorneys.
Christopher Bellas, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Youngstown State University, said it's common for cases to be influenced by the media.
"The more publicity a case gets, the more people are going to know about it," he said. "It's then a question of if they can set aside their bias and decide just on the facts presented in the case."
Zena added that he thinks that's going to be necessary in this case.
"I'm sorry we have to do it. I know everybody wants this thing to go strictly towards the facts, but I didn't create the publicity and my client didn't," Zena said.
Durkin said he'd entertain the motion.
Jennifer McLaughlin, assistant county prosecutor, said she was reluctant to comment on the likelihood of Zena's motion being granted, due to the case's ongoing nature. She did, however, indicate that this case has been receiving an abnormally large amount of attention from the media.
Jeffrey Limbian, Carter's attorney, said there might be a need for a more particularized bill of particulars for his client. However, he said the filing of a motion wasn't certain.
The five men appeared in court together due to a motion filed by the state on April 26 to enjoin their indictments together, which was ultimately granted.
Braylon Rogers, 20, of Brentwood Avenue, was initially charged with aggravated murder and felonious assault, but the charges were reduced to being a convicted felon in illegal possession of a firearm when he agreed to testify against the other five.
"When they let [Braylon] go, I just knew something was wrong," Tecker said.
The trials will commence on Jan. 23, with the trial of Columbus Jones Jr. being heard first.
The Hills want justice to be served.
"With all the murderers getting off, we're concerned about what's going to happen with our son," Sidney Hill said.
Davison said he and other fraternity brothers would be attending the trial.