Most of Tuesday’s testimony in Michael Jerome “Big Smoove” Johnson’s murder trial in the 2011 fatal shooting of Steve Toms focused on whether anyone else had a motive to kill Toms.
Johnson’s accused of shooting Toms six times while robbing the 3717 Gentian Blvd. Gold & Silver Trading Center that Toms managed. Police believe Johnson started shooting when Toms pulled a revolver on him during the robbery. A fully loaded and cocked .38-caliber revolver was found on the floor by Toms’ body.
Johnson’s defense attorney J. Mac Pilgrim implied Tuesday that the close-range shooting seemed more the work of someone who was angry at Toms than someone robbing the business, where $250,000 cash was left in cardboard boxes in an open safe, and police found $2,300 cash in Toms’ pockets.
Witnesses were asked whether Toms had enemies, or any ongoing personal dispute.
No, he did not, they said.
John “John Boy” Jackson, from whom Toms had been buying a bar once called “The Shanty Shack” before Toms renamed it “Duffy’s,” said Toms had paid him 40 percent for the business — about $40,000, Jackson guessed — with plans to pay the remaining 60 percent when he had the funds.
They had no set timetable for the payoff, and that didn’t trouble Jackson, who of Toms said, “I trusted him. He was a man of his word. He pretty much did what he said he was going to do.”
Jackson drew smiles when Pilgrim asked whether his “Shanty Shack” bar had any nicknames. “A lot of people called it the ‘Panty Shack,’” Jackson said. He didn’t know why they called it that, he said.
Sgt. Kenneth Hudson was among the detectives who investigated the case. On the witness stand he was asked about the relationship between Toms and jewelry store owner Bob Upchurch.
He said no one reported the two men had any serious disputes. Plus Upchurch had no reason to harm Toms and plenty of reasons not to.
Toms essentially ran the shop for Upchurch, and made the owner a lot of money, Hudson said.
Upchurch in his earlier testimony said he rarely had to do anything at the store, and would sit to one side while Toms worked, helping only if he were needed.
Hudson said people close to the pair told him they were like “grumpy old men” who would pick at each other, but remained close friends.
Another detective, Joby Duncan, said police tracked other leads early in the investigation, collecting 17 sets of fingerprints as they interviewed possible suspects. But each was ruled out, usually because the subject couldn’t be placed at the jewelry store when Toms was shot, he said.
Investigators believe Johnson shot Toms sometime after 5:31 p.m. Nov. 15, 2011, because that’s when Toms last communicated with his daughter via text. Coworkers said Toms routinely started tallying sales and getting ready to close the shop about 5:40 p.m. The store closed at 6 p.m. on weekdays.
Upchurch found Toms’ body when he arrived at the shop about 8:30 a.m. the following day. Cash from the store register and some jewelry were missing, though thousands of dollars remained in the open safe in an adjacent room.
The trial resumes at 9:15 a.m. today in Judge William Rumer’s Government Center courtroom.
Johnson is the only defendant charged in Toms’ slaying. He and codefendant Dimitrius Morris “Slim Deezy” Gordon together are on trial in armed robberies of the 4227 Victory Drive Diamond Exchange on May 5, 2012, and the 5750 Milgen Road Winn-Dixie on April 11, 2012.