During a hearing on Friday, Andre Johnson alleged his statement to detectives was not voluntary and was coerced.
“Did you feel you were free to leave? Did you feel you had a choice?” defense lawyer Brendan M. Campbell asked Andre Johnson during the hearing.
“No,” Johnson replied to both questions, adding he felt “scared, powerless and a little nervous” while being questioned by detectives.
Campbell argued to the judge, “This was a product of illegal detention. He’s never told that he’s free to leave.”
But Assistant District Attorney James E. Price II argued Andre Johnson’s statement was “entirely voluntary.”
County Detective Todd Richard testified Andre Johnson voluntarily agreed to come to the county detective bureau to be questioned, was not handcuffed, was not in custody, never asked for a lawyer and even signed a waiver of rights form indicating he voluntarily gave the statement.
“He was told about his rights. He voluntarily gave the statement,” argued Price, who is being assisted at trial by co-prosecutor Samantha L. Thompson.
During a break in the hearing, when the judge was not in the courtroom, Andre Johnson, still in the witness box, locked eyes with the victim’s relatives who were in court and wore memorial t-shirts embossed with Desmond Johnson’s photo and the words “#LIVE4DESMOND.” At one point, Andre Johnson smiled and chuckled in response to the spectators’ glares.
“He’s up there laughing. What are you laughing at?” one female spectator uttered to Andre Johnson before the hearing resumed.
Johnson appeared to laugh again later when a member of the victim’s family verbally lashed out at him as he was escorted from the courtroom.
In addition to denying Andre Johnson’s request to toss his statement, the judge set his trial for Feb. 22, 2019.
Andre Johnson is charged with first-, second- and third-degree murder, possession of a prohibited firearm, firearms not to be carried without a license, criminal use of a communication facility and robbery in connection with the slaying.
If convicted of first-degree murder, which is an intentional killing, Andre Johnson faces life imprisonment.
Second-degree murder, a killing committed during the course of another felony, such as robbery, also carries a mandatory term of life imprisonment upon conviction. A conviction of third-degree murder, a killing committed with malice, carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.
The defendant and the victim are not related, officials said.
An investigation began at 11:52 p.m. June 16 when Norristown police responded to reports of gunshots on Carson Alley, in the area behind the 300 block of East Penn Street, according to a criminal complaint. About 30 minutes later, at 12:22 a.m. June 17 police responded to the 300 block of Carson Alley for a report of the discovery of a body.
Officers found Desmond Johnson, of Norristown, lying on his right side, dead from an apparent gunshot wound, according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective James Reape and Norristown Detective Charles Leeds.
A subsequent autopsy determined the victim died from a gunshot wound to the chest and the manner of death was listed as homicide. Authorities said they found three plastic bags of suspected marijuana in the victim’s pants pocket.
Detectives recovered a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson fired bullet casing in Carson Alley about 160-feet from the victim’s final resting place.
“A trail of blood led from the area of the casing to Desmond Johnson,” Reape and Leeds wrote in the arrest affidavit.
During the investigation, detectives obtained video surveillance from various locations in the area and also recovered the victim’s cellphone, court documents indicate.
A review of text message communications on the victim’s cellphone revealed Andre Johnson used the phone of another Norristown man “to arrange a meeting with Desmond Johnson under the ruse of purchasing marijuana,” according to the criminal complaint.
The man whose phone Andre Johnson was using to arrange the meeting told detectives that Johnson told him he wanted to “jam him,” meaning rob Desmond Johnson, according to the criminal complaint.
“The video surveillance and timeline presented by (Andre Johnson) is consistent with having the opportunity to commit the robbery.