No Habeas Relief for Murder Accomplice
(CN) - A jury had enough evidence to convict a man as an accomplice in the murder of a "crackhead" who fought off his assailant with a broomstick hours earlier at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Corey Walker was convicted of the 1995 shooting death of Taraja Williams in Harrisburg, Pa. But Lorenzo Johnson claimed there was not enough evidence to link him as an accomplice.
Though the 3rd Circuit granted Johnson habeas relief, the Supreme Court accepted the state's appeal and reversed Tuesday.
Evidence presented at trial showed that Walker shot Williams hours after an embarrassing fight at a KFC.
Victoria Doubs, a woman who claimed that she "ran the streets" with Walker and Johnson, testified that the fight erupted because Williams owed Walker money.
"Williams was 'cussing [Walker] out, telling him he'd give it to him when he felt like it and he ain't scared of [Walker],'" according to the court's summary. "A fight ensued, which ended when Williams beat Walker with a broomstick in front of the crowd of people that had gathered.
"After the fight, Doubs testified, Walker 'was mad, because he got beat by a crackhead. ... He was saying, yo, that crackhead beat me. I'm going to kill that crackhead. I'm going to kill that kid. ... He was hot. He was heated.'"
Doubs also said Johnson witnessed these statements, as well as additional threats Walker make when people laughed at him later in the day over the incident.
Several witnesses testified that they saw the trio enter an alley and then heard a loud boom.
In granting Johnson's bid for habeas relief, the 3rd Circuit had said the questioned whether Johnson had a specific intent to help kill Williams since witnesses failed to show that the victim was forced into the alley.
But the Supreme Court called this analysis "flawed."
"First, the coercive nature of Johnson and Walker's behavior could be inferred from other circumstances not involving the direct use of force: Walker was noticeably concealing a weapon, and he had been heatedly threatening to kill Williams after a violent confrontation earlier in the day," the unsigned opinion states. "Johnson and Walker kept Williams between them in a single-file line on the way to the alley, where Johnson stood at the entrance while the other two entered, suggesting that Johnson may have been prepared to prevent Williams from fleeing. And second, even if Williams was not coerced into the alley, the jury still could have concluded that Johnson helped lead or lure him there to facilitate the murder."