Jurors in a Columbus murder and robbery trial got a few chuckles Thursday as they heard how defendants Michael Jerome “Big Smoove” Johnson and Dimitrius Morris “Slim Deezy” Gordon got arrested in one of a string of armed robberies in 2012.
They also got to watch a couple of rap videos featuring the defendants, who were caught Aug. 22, 2012, at Columbus’ Springfield Crossing apartments on North Lumpkin Road after robbing the La Mexicana de Columbus restaurant and grocery at 3305 Victory Drive, just a half-mile away
That they committed the La Mexicana robbery is not in dispute: Both pleaded guilty in that case, as did Jamar Warner, who took the witness stand Thursday to testify to his part in the heist. Prosecutors are using the robbery to show a pattern in the operation of a robbery gang allegedly involving Johnson and Gordon.
The robbery took just two minutes, from 9:58 to 10 a.m. Warner, armed with a .22-caliber revolver, stood at the door to block anyone’s leaving. Johnson, carrying an AK-47 with its stock cut short, cornered the man working the cash register, ordering him to surrender any cash in the register or stored in the store office. Gordon, who had a .40-caliber Glock pistol, went to the meat counter to round up any workers there.
The robbery went smoothly, as did the getaway. Then it all unraveled in about 30 minutes.
Johnson used his then-wife’s car, an olive-green Ford Expedition. He switched its tag, using a license plate stolen from a 2004 Ford Taurus on Lee Street, about two blocks from his wife’s Springfield Crossing apartment, but the Expedition was recorded on the store’s security cameras.
When Johnson and his accomplices went back to the apartment, his wife left in the Expedition. A patrol officer on the lookout for the vehicle used in the robbery saw her and pulled her over, asking if anyone else had used her Ford. She said Johnson had used it earlier.
The police let her go and went to the apartment, where a detective arrived in time to see Johnson coming out with a garbage bag. In the bag were receipts from La Mexicana, and the stolen car tag that had been folded in half.
The detective arrested Johnson and summoned a SWAT team to surround the apartment.
What amused jurors was Warner’s account from inside the apartment. He testified that when Johnson went outside, he thought Johnson had only gone to a back room in the apartment. When Johnson didn’t return for 10 or 15 minutes, Warner went looking for him, asking others in the apartment, “Where Smoove at?”
He said he went to a back bedroom where Johnson’s brother-in-law, who had nothing to do with the robbery, was sleeping. While there, he happened to go to the window and look out.
He saw the SWAT team outside looking right back at him. The officers raised their weapons when they saw him peering out, he said.
He told Gordon they were surrounded. Gordon suggested they hide somewhere. Warner thought it a little late for that. “I wasn’t going to stay in there,” he said as jurors laughed.
Finally Johnson called the apartment and said the police wanted everyone to come outside. When Johnson’s wife returned, she gave officers permission to search the premises.
Police Sgt. John Bailey testified police found that Gordon and Johnson each had $2,000 in cash. They also found the .22-caliber revolver stuffed down in a box of Christmas ornaments in a hall closet. They found the .40-caliber Glock pistol in a shoebox in a bedroom belonging to Johnson’s daughter.
They also found the AK-47, along with extra ammunition and a 30-round banana clip, Bailey said.
Warner testified Johnson had told him he needed cash from the robbery not only to pay bills but to finance his music business. Warner quoted Johnson saying, “I needed the money to try to push my mix tape.”
On Thursday morning, jurors were shown two rap videos Johnson’s production company RBN recorded. Prosecutors argued one video shows the guns Johnson used in robberies, including the AK-47, and shows a staged robbery similar to the actual robberies committed in Columbus.
The videos, still posted on YouTube, are titled “Hood Where I’m From” and “Go Hard, Go Crazy."
Among those pictured in “Hood Where I’m From” is Sidney Person, who has pleaded guilty to a robbery in which Johnson and Gordon allegedly were involved. Person testified for the prosecution as it played the recordings.
He testified “Hood Where I’m From” was recorded in 2010, about two years before the string of robberies in which Johnson and Gordon are charged. The video shows Johnson wielding an automatic rifle, which Person said he thought was an AK-47.
After Person’s testimony, prosecutors called to the stand Chris Samra, an investigator for the district attorney’s office, who sifted through social media to find the recordings.
Samra was asked to interpret what he saw on the video, though defense attorneys objected he was no expert, and having only downloaded the videos from the Internet, he could not authenticate them.
A generation gap opened over the phrase “paper chase,” which was in the lyrics. Samra said it means going after money.
Johnson’s defense attorney J. Mac Pilgrim asked whether the phrase as easily could refer to the movie “The Paper Chase,” a 1972 film about a Harvard Law School student.
That was before Samra’s time: “I have no idea about that movie,” he said.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker afterward asked Samra to tick through the similarities between the videos and the robberies: They involved gunmen wearing masks and hoodies and flashing cash.
“They didn’t say anything about getting a law degree?” Whitaker asked in reference to “The Paper Chase.”
“They did not,” Samra replied.
Johnson and Gordon together are on trial for two armed robberies: the 4227 Victory Drive Diamond Exchange on May 5, 2012, and the 5750 Milgen Road Winn-Dixie on April 11, 2012.
Johnson alone is charged with murder and armed robbery in the Nov. 15, 2011, armed robbery of the 3717 Gentian Blvd. Gold & Silver Trading Center, where manager Steve Toms was found shot to death the following day. Prosecutors expect to start presenting evidence in that case today.