The jury in the trial of three men accused of kidnapping, raping, shooting, sodomizing with handguns and setting afire a Columbus woman four years ago has convicted the defendants on most of the charges against them.
The jury deliberated 2½ hours before delivering the verdict around 6:30 p.m. Friday.
The defendants faced two counts each of aggravated assault, aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery, and one count each of rape, aggravated battery, kidnapping, hijacking a motor vehicle, second-degree arson, using a firearm to commit a felony, possessing cocaine and possessing a misdemeanor amount of marijuana.
Robert Carl Johnson and Ketorie Glover were found guilty on all counts except the two drug charges. Joey Garron was found guilty on all charges except two counts of aggravated sexual battery, using a firearm to commit a felony and the two drug charges.
Judge Arthur Smith III set their sentencing for 1 p.m. Wednesday.
The victim buried her face in one hand and wept quietly as a court clerk read the verdicts. It followed closing arguments during which two of the defense attorneys asked the jury to find their clients guilty only of aggravated assault, and the third said the man he represented was only a witness to the horrific 2014 attack.
Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey countered that the defendants not only committed all the offenses, but enjoyed sexually torturing the 36-year-old woman during the brutal New Year’s Day attack in a vacant lot at 988 Farr Road.
“It was pure evil,” she told jurors, echoing the victim’s testimony that the three suspects passed her around “like a piece of cake” while raping her, and that they were “really getting off” on sodomizing her both vaginally and anally at the same time with two guns.
“This is not a hard case,” Dailey told the jury. “It’s an easy case. It’s a strong case.”
Besides the victim’s identifying them in court, the suspects incriminated themselves in their statements to police, the prosecutor said: “They even said they poured gasoline on her and set her on fire.” And though each defendant tried to minimize his role, they acted as a group, making each a willing participant: “They are responsible for the entire crime.”
The defense attorneys disagreed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to convict each defendant on all the charges.
Attorney Angela Dillon, who represented Johnson, asked jurors to focus only on the evidence, and render a verdict that’s “not based on the emotion and disturbing aspects of this case.”
The prosecution had to prove each count beyond a reasonable doubt, and the evidence was not so clear-cut on some of the charges, she said.
“There is clear evidence that my client is guilty of some of the charges in this indictment,” she acknowledged, citing testimony that Johnson had a gun that night, so he could be convicted of shooting the woman.
“Convict him of aggravated assault,” she suggested.
Attorney Adam Deaver, who represented Glover, also acknowledged that much: Glover has an “anger problem” – earning him the nickname “Grumpy” – and the suspect admitted to police that he shot the woman: “Something triggered in him.”
But the rest was not clear, Deaver said, as the victim often referred to the person committing a particular offense as “they” and answered “I don’t know” when asked to name the defendant or defendants she referred to.
“Everything she’s always said is ‘they’ and ‘I don’t know,’” Deaver said.
So, jurors could find Glover guilty of aggravated assault, he said: “But the rest of this, ladies and gentlemen, there is too much gray…. Find him guilty of what he did.”
Anthony Johnson, who represented Garron, said his client didn’t do anything. The only evidence authorities had on Garron was a fingerprint police found on the victim’s 2007 Volkswagen Passat, he said.
“He’s not a hero. He’s not a monster,” Johnson said. “He’s a witness.”
Dillon and Deaver delved into the victim’s state of mind, noting she admitted using cocaine earlier in the day before she drank and smoked marijuana with the three suspects outside a “party house” on Garden Drive, where she was in her car listening to the radio.
The victim said she was sitting in her car when Glover came over and offered to buy her a drink. He went inside and brought her back a gin and juice, then sat in the front passenger seat, she said. Soon Glover’s friend Johnson joined them, getting in the back seat behind her, and then Garron got into the other backseat, she testified.
“She never says she’s afraid of them or anything’s wrong,” Dillon noted, not even after Glover pulled out a handgun, then put it away like he was joking.
The woman said they all participated in a freestyle rap contest, during which her words apparently provoked the ensuing violence, prompting Glover to pull his weapon again as he and Johnson put gun barrels to her head.
But she wasn’t specific about what triggered that anger: “We don’t really know why, except for the fact they got mad,” Dillon said.
The victim said they told her to drive off, but soon put their guns away, and had her move to the front passenger’s seat while Glover drove the VW.
Yet she did not try to escape, Dillon emphasized: “Why? I’ll tell you why. Because this wasn’t a kidnapping.”
Nothing happened until they get to the field on Farr Road, where “it all starts to go bad,” Dillon said, repeating what defendants told police. But those details also were sketchy, she said: “There’s not a whole lot of clarity.”
Though the assault occurred in an open field where passersby should have noticed, “nobody sees anything,” Dillon said. “So how does it happen? We don’t know.”
It happened just as the victim testified, Dailey said: They ordered the woman to strip naked in the cold night air, forced her to give them oral sex, repeatedly sodomized her with handguns and raped her.
“They attack her like a pack of animals,” she said.
They put her in the trunk of the Passat, but she got out, so they shot her, poured gasoline on her and the car, and set the fuel alight, Dailey said.
After the victim rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames, they lined up like gunslingers in a Western movie, and backed away as Glover and Johnson fired at her repeatedly while she tried to find cover by the car, the prosecutor said.
If the victim earlier had some drinks or drugs, Dailey said, “So what?” The penalty for using drugs is not rape: “It is not being sexually tortured for hours,” she said, of the defense attorneys’ arguments adding, “I could not even believe some of the stuff that I was hearing.”
That included Dillon’s contending the victim wasn’t kidnapped, Dailey said, recalling the woman’s testimony that when they put guns to her head and said, “Drive, b---h,” she looked at her mother, dancing in the front yard of the party house, and thought she’d never see her again.
“That’s not ‘willingly,’” Dailey said of the victim’s complying with their orders.
Her terror was evident in her pleading with them on the way to Farr Road: “Please don’t kill me. I’ve got a young kid,” pleas Johnson mentioned in his statements to police, she said.
The victim was left with first- and second-degree burns, an open fracture at the knee where she was shot, another fracture where she was shot in the hand, a gunshot wound to the chest that collapsed a lung, a gunshot wound to the abdomen that required removing part of her lower intestine, other gunshot wounds, and rips in her anus and vagina, Dailey emphasized.
“There is no question as to what happened,” the prosecutor said. “It was pure evil, just like she said.”