With closing arguments set for 9:30 a.m. today, the murder trial of Michael Jerome Johnson and armed robbery trial of Johnson and Dimitrius Morris Gordon had its last day of testimony Thursday.
With Muscogee Sheriff’s Cpl. Joseph Yawn on the witness stand, jurors heard a telephone conversation recorded at the county jail, from which Johnson called an associate three times on Jan. 10, 2013, ordering him to tell Gordon to confirm an alibi Johnson gave detectives for Nov. 15, 2011, the day Steve Toms was shot dead in the Gold & Silver Trading Center at 3717 Gentian Blvd.
Authorities believe Toms, 63, was gunned down sometime between 5:31 and 6 p.m. that day.
According to earlier testimony from police Sgt. Andrew Tyner, Johnson first told investigators he went straight home to his mother’s house on Somerset Avenue after work that day, because he’d just got paid and owed his mother $200.
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When Tyner later took Johnson from the jail for an interview, he told Johnson cell phone records placed him in the area of the jewelry store. Johnson then revised his story to say he went by the Hot Box recording studio, then at 3470 University Ave., where he sometimes recorded music under the name “Big Smoove.” He told Tyner that Gordon, who goes by “Slim Deezy,” picked him up there and gave him a ride home.
Tyner later learned that right after he questioned Johnson, who with Gordon at the time was charged only in an Aug. 22, 2012, restaurant robbery, Johnson went back to the jail and called a mutual friend to have him pass a message to Gordon, as both were in jail and could not communicate directly.
Yawn testified the calls were made at 2:55 p.m., 3:04 p.m. and 3:16 p.m. The recordings played in court were difficult to decipher, at times, but Johnson could be heard ordering that Gordon tell police he picked Johnson up at the studio and dropped him off at his mother’s.
“You met me at the studio sometime after 6 and dropped me off about 9 o’clock at my mama’s house,” he said at one point.
Johnson also said his request was in regard to “the last teardrop,” which Tyner said is street-gang slang for a homicide or other death.
Only Johnson is charged with Toms’ slaying. He and 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.
When prosecutors rested their case Thursday, defense attorneys called alibi witnesses to the stand.
Johnson’s sister Brittney Bush testified she gave birth to her first child on April 9, 2012, and Johnson stayed at the hospital with her for the next two nights, so he could not have participated in the Winn-Dixie robbery.
“I’m absolutely certain he spent the night with me on those two nights,” she said.
Under cross-examination, she acknowledged she had no medical records to document the dates. Asked if Johnson might have left while she slept, she insisted the baby’s feeding schedule kept her from sleeping for any extended period.
In regard to the Toms’ homicide, defense attorney J. Mac Pilgrim had a business owner from Gentian Corners, the shopping center next to the Gold & Silver Trading Center, testify that he was out in the parking lot that day, and heard no gunshots.
Robbie Gautier said he was 60 feet from the jewelry store that evening as he waited on an electrician. At one point he saw a black man driving a 1980s or 1970s dark-colored sedan come from behind the jewelry shop and pass by on the way out of the parking lot.
The driver had a short, scraggly afro hairstyle with some braiding, and he did not resemble Johnson, Gautier said.
Under cross-examination, the witness acknowledged he never saw the driver go into or come out of the jewelry store.
Gordon’s attorney Jennifer Curry called witness Shanika Warren, who said she and Gordon were teen sweethearts who have a child together. She said that before they broke up, they marked May 5 as their anniversary, because that was the day in 2005 they first had sex, when they were 15.
She testified that Gordon spent the day with her and their daughter on May 5, 2012, so he could not have helped rob the Diamond Exchange.
She said they watched a movie and went to Peachtree Mall that day, but she could not specify when they did what. Prosecutor Al Whitaker challenged her memory, asking whether she was even sure of their anniversary date.
The trial’s now in its third week, and jurors Thursday were starting to tire. During a break in the proceedings, Judge William Rumer asked them whether anyone needed to smoke.
“I could start,” one answered.