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Attorneys oppose DNA retesting in 2011 shooting death of Jamail E. Johnson

YOUNGSTOWN — Columbus Jones, 35, who is serving 90 years to life in prison for the Feb. 6, 2011, shooting death of Jamail E. Johnson, 25, and wounding of 10 other people at a party on Indiana Avenue on the North Side, is seeking DNA testing on certain bullet cartridges collected in hopes that it will exonerate him.

The Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office has filed a response to the request with Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, asking the judge to deny Jones’ Sept. 9 request.

Specifically, Jones is asking that 10 .40-caliber cartridges that were admitted as evidence in his trial be tested for DNA and the results uploaded to a law enforcement database to potentially “provide additional proof of Mr. Jones’ innocence while simultaneously identifying the true perpetrator.”

Michael Roberts, a forensic scientist with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, analyzed the .40-caliber cartridges, as well as some .45-caliber cartridges fired from two separate guns. All of the .40-caliber cartridges were fired from the same gun, and all of the .45-caliber cartridges were fired from a seperate gun, according to a filing from attorney Ralph Rivera of the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office. There were 10 .40-caliber cartridges and 11 .45-caliber cartridges.

Roberts concluded that the bullet fragments taken from Johnson’s body included one .40-caliber bullet and one .45-caliber bullet. The recovered bullet from victim Shavai Owens also was a .40-caliber bullet.

Rivera argues in his filing that Jones is not eligible to have the testing done because “touch DNA” technology was available in 2012 when Jones was tried for the offenses, but there was no testimony in Jones’ trial regarding any touch DNA testing being done on cartridge cases. Jones also cannot show that DNA evidence “would have been outcome-determinative at the trial stage,” Rivera stated.

Rivera argues that the shell cartridges are “not in a condition scientifically suitable for testing.” Touch DNA does not provide a large quantity of DNA, and touch DNA samples also “include a higher risk of unintended contamination,” Rivera stated, quoting from the affidavit of Dr. Lewis Maddox, DNA technical leader for BCI.

BCI’s policies “refuse testing of cartridge cases that have been handled without gloves,” for instance, the filing states. Maddox stated that touch DNA “with a history of handling without precautions is refuted because the laboratory takes responsibility to avoid generation of evidence profiles that cannot be meaningfully interpreted,” Rivera’s filing states.

Maddox said there is “good reason to be concerned that any touch DNA found on the fired cartridge cases is due to transfer at the crime scene or not from the offense, but the result of contamination.”

Furthermore, there is “overwhelming evidence” of Jones’ guilt in the case based on the testimony presented at trial, Rivera argued.

Jones was convicted of murder, 10 counts of felonious assault and one count of discharging a firearm at or into a habitation, plus gun specifications.

Jones, who is housed in the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, will be eligible for parole for the first time in December 2100, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction website.

JONES ARGUMENTS

Jones’ filing from attorney Megan Pattituce of Strongsville does not deny that Jones was at the party. It also acknowledges that he had a gun, along with three other men with him when they arrived about 2:55 a.m. It also agrees that Jones was part of a fight that took place at the party about 3:15 a.m. But the filing argues that the accounts of what happened after that “vary and are inconsistent.”

Only two witnesses identified Jones as the “perpetrator,” including co-defendant Braylon Rogers. Another witness testified to seeing Jones raise his arm to fire a gun, but did not see him fire it, and that witness was not able to pick Jones — only Rogers — out of a photo lineup.

Rogers “received a deal for cooperating and testifying” and identified Jones as the shooter, the Jones filing states. “The state exclusively relied on eyewitness testimony to build their case against Mr. Jones,” it adds.

The Jones filing argues that this case qualifies for testing under the law, and BCI has the technology to do it. It says that the testing of cartridges could be “outcome determinative” because of the lack of physical evidence in the case and extensive “hearsay testimony.” The filing argues that the testing of the cartridges could find the presence of DNA from a “known felon” and no DNA from Jones.

Two people who identified Jones as the perpetrator were unable to identify him from a photo lineup but did identify him after seeing him on the news after Jones was arrested, the filing states.

If the results of the testing point to another perpetrator, the court “should immediately release Jones from prison, declare him innocent, void his convictions and expunge his record related to this case,” according to the filing.

DETAILS

The prosecution filing contains a summary of the facts of the case that they say proves the cartridges should not be tested.

Police were called to a shooting at 55 Indiana Ave. at 3:30 a.m. Feb. 6, 2011. Then-Youngstown patrolman Chad Zubal, now a detective, saw people “screaming and running from the house,” some of them shot. Jamail Johnson was bleeding badly near a doorway. It was estimated 80 to 90 people were at the home. Hours earlier, much of the crowd had attended a party at the MetroPlex hotel in Liberty hosted by the Kappa fraternity. During the party, the DJ announced there would be an after-party at a home on Indiana Avenue.

The after-party started between 2 and 3 a.m. with partygoers entering through an entrance on the back porch. There, people were patted down and paid a nominal fee as they entered, the filing states.

Braylon Rogers attended the party with Jones and several other people. Rogers said he, Jones and Jamelle Jackson carried guns that night. Jackson carried a .45-caliber handgun, Jones carried a .40-caliber handgun and Rogers carried a 9mm handgun, the filing states, quoting from trial testimony. The others in their group had no handguns, the filing states.

As the group entered, the people monitoring the door found Jones’ gun, but Jones handed it to Demetrius Wright, and Wright later handed it back to Jones through a window in the home, the filing states.

Sometime later, Brittany Dabie, who was intoxicated, tried to put on her shoe by leaning her arm on Rogers to balance herself, but Rogers moved his arm, causing Dabie to curse at Rogers and Rogers to curse back. Dabie then tried to hit Rogers with her shoe.

Dannie Williams, Dabie’s brother, came over and exchanged words with Rogers. Victor Toney came over and tried to diffuse the situation, but Rogers punched Williams in the face. Toney took Williams out of the house, and they and Dabie left the party.

Williams later met up at a nearby pizza shop with Durrell Richardson, who Williams knew from boxing, and they returned to the party, with Williams pointing out Rogers and Jones, who Richardson knew. Richardson said he approached Rogers and Jones “in an attempt to squash the problem, but Rogers smacked his hand down when Richardson attempted to shake his hand.”

Moments later, a fight erupted among Richardson, Williams, Rogers and Jones. “Richardson testified that Jones flashed his gun during this altercation,” the filing states. Another man corroborated that he saw a handgun during the fight.

A woman testified that she saw Jones, Rogers and Jackson being pushed out the back door and then arguing with Johnson as they were being told to leave. Another witness said Johnson was holding back Richardson, who was trying to fight Jones.

Outside, Dannie Williams had a confrontation with Jamelle Jackson and Jones in which Jackson pulled out his gun, the prosecution filing states.

Based on trial testimony, Jones then “started shooting towards the back door from just off the back porch,” the filing states.

“When Jones stopped shooting, Jackson started shooting his gun. Rogers denied shooting his 9mm that night.” Carl Davison testified to seeing Jones “outside the back porch with a gun. Davison then dropped to the ground after Jones lifted his gun,” the filing states, adding “that’s when the shots started coming in.”

Johnson died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head and leg.

Jones and Jackson went back to a home on West LaClede Avenue where they washed their hands in ammonia to get rid of the gunshot residue, the filing states, quoting from trial testimony.

A forensic scientist with BCI testified at trial that he found gunshot residue on an ammonia bottle and a Totally Awesome Cleaner bottle recovered during a search of the West LaClede home and a home on West Delason Avenue, both on the South Side.

Durkin has not yet ruled on the motion.

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