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Anatomy of a Murder Acquittal

By October 13, 2019May 28th, 2020No Comments

Smith Blythe’s Mariell Lehman just secured a not guilty verdict for her client, Curtis Brown. That’s a rare thing in a case where there was no question our client pulled the trigger. Rarer still in a county where the police commissioner announced Curtis’ arrest with, “I can’t emphasize enough that when a crime of this nature is committed in Warren, we have a very high, if not 100 percent, rate of arrest and conviction.” And, incredibly rare where two codefendants were granted immunity to testify against our client.

Here’s how it happened:

The shooting occurred in the middle of the day outside Da Shop barber shop in Warren, though the incident began hours earlier. It started with an argument over a woman between four men in the barbershop, Curtis’ brother, Lawrence, and a friend, Raymond, in the parking lot. Lawrence jumped in his car, three of the four men moved on Raymond, the fourth opened a backpack that looked like, according to Lawrence much later on, had a gun in it.

Lawrence and Raymond took off. They then called a few people to go back to the barber shop to fight, one of those people was our client, Curtis, Lawrence’s older brother. Lawrence and Raymond rounded up Curtis and three other men and the six went back to the shop to fight it out.

Back at the shop, Raymond led three other men to the front door. There’s a very grainy video from a surveillance camera across the street. As Raymond was motioning for the individuals from the earlier altercation to come outside, Curtis was about to round the corner of the building.

Inside the shop, and unbeknownst to Curtis, Byron Johnson pulled a Glock 22 out of his waist band, racked it, and walked outside with two of his friends. Before he even got out of the door he was pointing the gun at the group outside on the sidewalk.

There’s no video of this, it was put together from all the various statements a few days after the shooting: all six had their hands up. Johnson put the gun in Lawrence’s face, then moved to Curtis and put the gun inches from his chin. Curtis had his hands up. They held this pose for a long moment. At some point, Johnson – still pointing the gun at Curtis’ chin – turned his head Curtis pulled out a .380 and shot him once in the jaw.

One of Johnson’s friends picked up the Glock and started firing indiscriminately. Everyone ran and one person was shot although not seriously injured.

The arrests started two days later. Lawrence and his friends identified Curtis as the shooter, in turn two, including Lawrence, were given immunity agreements to testify against him.

Curtis was arrested and charged with First Degree Premeditated Murder along with firearm charges.

Curtis maintained he acted in self-defense from his arrest on. The case went to trial on May 28th. The prosecution essentially argued that Lawrence called Curtis because he ‘wanted a hitman’ and Curtis fit the bill. Everyone else went along to watch Curtis ‘shoot and kill Johnson.”

The prosecution presented the Medical Examiner, Lawrence and his friend, the barber shop owner, three police officers, an evidence tech, a ballistics expert, and the detective in charge of the case. We called no witnesses. At that point we felt the incident spoke for itself

The jury deliberated for a day and a half, hung on the murder charge. They convicted Curtis on the gun charges and the judge declared a mistrial.

The new trial began on October 8th. This time the charge was Second Degree Murder. This time the prosecution’s theory was that Lawrence told Curtis there was a gun and Curtis could have reasonably anticipated that Johnson would come at them with it.

The prosecution presented pretty much the same witnesses. Again, we presented none.

The jury acquitted Curtis after five hours of deliberation.

Author Shannon Smith

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