Bail sought in fa­tal Craigslist rob­bery

The state ar­gues that he should stay in jail for pub­lic safety.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY DAN SUL­LI­VAN Times Staff Writer

Don­tae John­son’s de­fense wants bail set for the 19-year-old de­fen­dant. The state ar­gues that he should re­main in the county jail, held with­out bail, to pro­tect the com­mu­nity.

TAMPA — To those who know Don­tae John­son, he is a quiet and car­ing teenager who has an in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity. He switched schools to get away from bul­lies. He likes foot­ball, but was too nice to get ag­gres­sive on the field.

To Stu­art Beck, John­son is the man who mur­dered his fa­ther.

In a court­room Fri­day, the 17-year-old son took the wit­ness stand and re­counted how he saw John­son fa­tally shoot his fa­ther, James Beck, af­ter they drove to an east Tampa neigh­bor­hood to sell a dirt bike. The teen was asked about a photo ar­ray po­lice had shown him af­ter the mur­der, and the notes he wrote then:

“Pulled a gun on my dad,” the teen wrote be­side John­son’s im­age. “And when my dad at­tempted to flee in his truck, he shot my dad.”

But the ques­tion be­fore a judge wasn’t whether John­son is guilty in the Jan. 31, 2017, death of James Beck. It was whether John­son, now 19, could safely be re­leased on bail while await­ing trial on charges of first-de­gree mur­der and rob­bery.

Hills­bor­ough As­sis­tant State At­tor­ney Michelle Do­herty ar­gued that there are no rea­son-

able bail con­di­tions to pro­tect the com­mu­nity.

John­son’s de­fense said he is en­ti­tled to a rea­son­able bail, that there is no ev­i­dence that he wouldn’t abide by the con­di­tions, or that he has a dis­re­gard for pub­lic safety. As­sis­tant Pub­lic De­fender Mike Pea­cock noted that John­son lacks a crim­i­nal his­tory and that he turned him­self in af­ter the war­rant for his ar­rest was is­sued. A pair of psy­chol­o­gists tes­ti­fied that John­son has lit­tle risk of com­mit­ting a vi­o­lent act.

“I’m not here to say he gets to go home,” Pea­cock said. “I’m here to say there is no ba­sis for pre­trial de­ten­tion.”

On the wit­ness stand, Stu­art Beck said he listed the Kawasaki dirt bike on Craigslist for $900. He got a text mes­sage from a po­ten­tial buyer who of­fered $1,200 if he could de­liver it to Tampa.

He and his fa­ther loaded the bike into the back of their pickup truck at their home in Hol­i­day. It was an hour drive to Tampa, along un­fa­mil­iar roads. They ar­rived at the agreed-upon spot just be­fore dark. They didn’t see any­body.

Stu­art Beck called the buyer, who then di­rected them to east Tampa, to the area of 18th Street and 24th Av­enue. They en­coun­tered two men. One tall, one shorter. One asked to test ride the bike. Fa­ther and son said they needed the money first. The 17-year-old told this story from the stand:

The tall man pulled out a stack of cash, mostly $1 bills. James Beck started to count it. He said it didn’t look like $1,200. The shorter man got into the truck bed and started to touch the bike. The tall man asked for the money back, then pulled a gun from his jacket.

“I re­mem­ber my dad said, ‘run to the truck,’ ” Stu­art Beck tes­ti­fied.

He ran.

“My dad was get­ting in the driver’s seat and he got shot,” the son told the court. “I think it was four or five times.”

As Stu­art Beck ran to his wounded fa­ther, he said the short man rode off on the bike. The taller man also fled. James Beck, 44, was a fa­ther of three.

Po­lice first ar­rested the shorter man, iden­ti­fied as 18-year-old Ra­mon­trae Wil­liams, who is ac­cused of be­ing the per­son who stole the bike. They ar­rested John­son, the tall man, days later.

The de­fense wit­nesses in­cluded two Plant High School foot­ball staffers who let the teen live in their home af­ter they learned his mother had dif­fi­culty pro­vid­ing for him.

He started at­tend­ing Plant High about a year be­fore his ar­rest, said El­iz­a­beth Win­ter, the foot­ball team’s di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions. She tes­ti­fied that he trans­ferred to the South Tampa high school be­cause he was be­ing bul­lied at Blake High School.

They fed and clothed him and came to think of him as a “sur­ro­gate son,” she tes­ti­fied. He took spe­cial needs classes, she said, and played foot­ball but had to be told to get more ag­gres­sive on the field.

When John­son be­came en­snared in the mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the fam­ily’ con­tacted a lawyer. They also ar­ranged for him to turn him­self in to po­lice.

Know­ing John­son the way she does, Win­ter said she doubts he’s guilty. “I don’t think all the facts are out there,” she said. Win­ter said she would let him live in her home if he’s granted bail.

The judge was ex­pected to rule next week on whether to set bail for the de­fen­dant.

Don­tae John­son, 19, is ac­cused of fa­tally shoot­ing JamesBeck, 44, last year.

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