Monday, October 25, 2010

The Grainy Case of Kia Levoy Johnson

Three people claimed they knew the man on the grainy security camera video. A San Antonio police officer identified the robber by his distinctive clothing. Two others identified their long time friend / recent acquaintance as the man who shot and killed the store clerk. Coupled with a matching shoe print and a court-appointed attorney who met with his client for only three minutes before trial, those three video witnesses were more than enough to convict Kia Levoy Johnson of capital murder.

Throw in Kia's criminal record and the death penalty was a done deal. Add a pinch of rubber-stamp appellate system and a dollop of incurious Rick Perry, and Texas had another notch in its handle. At 6:18 PM on June 11, 2003, Kia Levoy Johnson would become the 305th person executed by Texas in the modern era.

Rick Perry's Attorney General, Greg Abbott, provided the following description of the crime and the evidence against Johnson.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 29, 1993, Kia Levoy Johnson entered a Stop 'N Go convenience store and approached the counter. When store clerk William Matthew Rains came to the counter, Johnson pulled a gun from his waistband and fired one shot. Rains fell on the floor. Johnson then demanded that Rains give him the register key. Rains threw a key to Johnson who attempted to use it to open the cash register. When the key broke, Johnson took the contents portion of the register and exited the store. For approximately 45 minutes after the robbery Rains attempted to reach a phone but was unable to do so because he had lost his motor skills. Rains' body was discovered in the early morning hours of Oct. 29, 1993, when another customer entered the Stop 'N Go. 
The details of the offense were captured on a store security camera. When the local news broadcast the video, a longtime friend identified Johnson and called Crime Stoppers. An officer of the San Antonio Police Department and another of Johnson's acquaintances also recognized Johnson from the videotape. The videotape was admitted into evidence and played for the jury.
Abbott’s summary of the three people who recognized Johnson on the video is at odds with most other reports. The witnesses are more frequently described as the uncle of Johnson’s common law wife (who admitted his loathing for Johnson while on the stand), a drug addict who had not seen Johnson in fifteen years, and a jailhouse snitch who had previously testified for Texas for reduced sentences. Apparently, the uncle must have been a San Antonio Police officer, though not involved in the case in any official capacity. Apparently Abbott chose to describe a drug addict that Johnson had not seen for fifteen years as “a longtime friend.” And apparently Abbott chose to describe a serial jailhouse snitch as an “acquaintance.”

Abbott apparently believed the case was sufficiently strong that he did not need to mention that a sneaker found in Johnson's closet matched a shoe print left on cash register receipt paper that had fallen on the convenience store floor. Perhaps Abbot felt that if he mentioned the discovery of the shoe, he would be obliged to mention that the police failed to find the murder weapon, or similar ammunition, or  even the cash register the shooter took from the store. The police found a shoe that allegedly matched a partial print, but they couldn't find a cash register, and they couldn't find the murder weapon.

Abbott’s summary does not mention that the FBI was unable to match Johnson’s photo with the person on the videotape. Nor did Abbott mention that the video was of such poor quality that  even Johnson's common-law uncle identified him by his clothing rather than his facial features.

The video, however, was clear enough to definitively show that the shooter placed his hands on the counter when he entered the store. And while the police were able to match a sneaker found in Johnson's closet with a partial shoe print left at the store, they were not able to match any prints from the counter with Johnson's fingers or palms.

To justify and expedite the killing of Kia Levoy Johnston, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott mis-characterized the primary witnesses and excluded compelling exculpatory evidence. In Texas, that's close enough for government work.

Johnson would be the 65th person executed during Rick Perry's 903 days in office. For those of you undaunted by long division, that's one person every two weeks.

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I've completed an Actual Innocence Scorecard for this case. I scored Johnson at 87. That means I estimate there is an 87% chance that Johnson was factually innocent compared to a 13% chance he was factually guilty.

Click on the scorecard to view it enlarged. Once the image appears, click again to view it in a still larger, more clear format.

I've included Johnson in the list of those executed by Texas that I have already scored. I include the current list below.

The addition of Kia Levoy Johnson brings the current total to 10.6 people wrongfully executed by Texas.

And counting.

1 comment:

Stephanie Marqui said...

We had been pen friends for about 7 years when he was murdered. He was a good man and he had children. I hope he is rehabilitated someday.

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