By Heather Ratcliffe and Greg Jonsson CLAYTON, Mo. — Jurors in the second trial of Kevin Johnson quickly found him guilty on Thursday of first-degree murder for gunning down a Kirkwood police officer and set about deciding whether he deserves to pay with his own life.
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
As the trial moved into its penalty phase, relatives of murdered police Sgt. William McEntee described to jurors who will decide the killer's fate a family that had been "destroyed" by his death.
"It's totally ruined my life," brother Michael McEntee told the jury Thursday evening. "This has completely damaged my family like I can't even describe."
Prosecutors argued that Johnson deserves the death penalty and asked McEntee's wife, sisters, brother and mother to describe the impact of his shooting death in July 2005. Today, the defense will call witnesses they hope will persuade the jury to instead send Johnson to prison for life without parole.
In the guilt phase of the trial, the jury took about 3 1/2 hours to reach an unanimous decision that Johnson, 23, acted with deliberation when he gunned down McEntee in Kirkwood's Meacham Park neighborhood. A jury that heard the case in April deadlocked after about 12 hours.
St. Louis County Circuit Judge Melvyn W. Wiesman instructed everyone inside the courtroom to remain silent during the verdict. That prompted two of Johnson's family members to step outside in tears.
The McEntee family clinched hands in the front row as they watched the jurors file into the court.
Johnson sat motionless as Wiesman read the guilty verdict.
Johnson's defense attorneys were hoping to convince the jury that he was guilty of second-degree murder. They argued that Johnson, who was upset about the death of his 12-year-old brother the day he killed McEntee, could not have "coolly reflected" before he pulled the trigger. That is the legal standard required for a first-degree murder conviction - and a possible death sentence.
"What witness told you about the reflection? No one," said defense attorney Robert Steele. "You didn't hear about a plan because there was no plan. Kevin didn't think this through."
But the jury sided with Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, who spent most of his one hour, 15 minute closing argument outlining evidence that he said pointed to "cool reflection."
Johnson said in a videotaped testimony made in the first trial - and shown in the second - that he watched from a window as police responded to his grandmother's home when his younger brother Joseph "Bam Bam" Long, 12, collapsed from a heart condition earlier that day. Johnson admitted he took a gun out of his truck and put it in his pocket after Bam Bam died. He and other witnesses said Johnson drove around the neighborhood and then walked around on foot for a while.
Some witnesses said Johnson was angry at police for not doing more to save his brother.
McCulloch said another brother told Johnson that a police car was turning down the street. That's when Johnson, who told police during his interrogation he always runs away from cops, instead walked toward McEntee's police car, leaned into the passenger window and fired at least seven shots.
"He wants you to think that he's a mindless zombie just clicking away at that gun," McCulloch argued. "Each shot is deliberation. He made a conscious decision each time he pulled the trigger."
In finding Johnson guilty, the court system did its job and brought closure to the family and Kirkwood police, Chief Jack Plummer said in a statement.
During the penalty phase, the prosecution projected family snapshots on a wall of the courtroom - McEntee graduating from the police academy, marking the day he made sergeant, gathering with family on holidays and coaching his children in soccer. Family members described him as a friend, a confidante, the godfather to their children.
"The life sucked out of me when I walked into that hospital and they told me he'd been killed," sister Kathy McEntee said.
McEntee's mother, Florence McEntee, said she visits his grave almost every day.
"I tell him 'I was supposed to go first,'" she said. -"'I need you. Your children need you.'"
McEntee's wife, Mary McEntee, said their three children - 16, 12, and 9 - live in fear. If daddy, a police sergeant with a gun, can be murdered, they wonder how they can be safe, she said. She read a letter a son wrote describing the four saddest days of his life: the days after his father was murdered and the day of his funeral.
"They don't have their dad," she said. "It will never be the same. That night, July 5, 2005, we all died. We all had to start over."
In her opening argument to the penalty phase, defense attorney Karen Kraft said Johnson had a tumultuous childhood of abuse and neglect. She said caseworkers and teachers will take the witness stand today to describe "the side of him that they saw that you haven't seen in this courtroom yet."
Both of his parents did time in jail, his father for murder, Kraft said. Johnson lived with his crack-addicted mother until the state took Johnson and two siblings away when he was 4 years old, Kraft said. He lived with other relatives and in group homes until aging out of state care. She said a doctor who examined Johnson while he was still a teen will testify that, under stress, Johnson would have a tendency to "explode" - just what Kraft said happened the day Johnson shot McEntee to death. The doctor recommended therapy, but Johnson never got it, Kraft said.
"His brother drops dead," she said. "He doesn't know how to deal with it. He explodes, and we end up in this courtroom."
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Mo. cop killer found guilty: Life in prison or death?