Man, 19, freed after 7 months in jail; robbery testimony at odds

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 9, 2010

For nearly four hours in June, Eric W. Johnson insisted to Prince George's County police detectives that the two armed robbery victims who had identified him as a culprit were wrong, that he was innocent.

For seven months, Johnson, 19, remained in the county jail in Upper Marlboro, awaiting a jury's decision on charges of armed robbery, first-degree assault, using a handgun in a crime of violence, 17 offenses in all, carrying the possibility of decades of prison time.

The jury never weighed in. On Thursday, before what would have been the second day of Johnson's trial, Assistant State's Attorney Ada Clark-Edwards dropped all charges against Johnson.

About seven hours later, he was released from the jail and celebrated by devouring a Big Mac meal at a McDonald's restaurant.

"I think the criminal justice system works in wrong ways," Johnson said in an interview less than two hours after he was freed. "I'm completely innocent."

Clark-Edwards referred questions to Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. Korionoff said the state dropped the charges because its two key witnesses were contradictory in their testimony and prosecutors no longer had confidence in their case.

For example, one of the victims, Lillian Hall, testified that the attacker she thought was Johnson had dark skin. Johnson is light-complexioned, defense attorneys Andrew Jezic and David Moyse said. The other victim, Timothy Flemmings, told police that the attacker he thought was Johnson hit him in the head with a gun; on the witness stand, Flemmings did not remember that, the attorneys said.

It is highly unusual for prosecutors to drop charges against a criminal defendant in the middle of a trial. In July 2006, Prince George's prosecutors dropped double-murder charges against Edgar "L.A." Reyes when cellphone records provided by a homicide detective during the trial cast doubt on the veracity of the state's lone witness.

At the outset of the Johnson trial, Hall and Flemmings took the stand and testified that Johnson was one of several men who robbed them at gunpoint about 10:30 p.m. June 7 in the 5600 block of Auth Road in Suitland.

According to police charging documents, one victim, Flemmings, surrendered a cellphone and an iPod. Hall gave the robbers her purse, her wallet and $22 in cash. A third victim, a woman, gave up her purse and wallet.

Johnson's hairstyle -- he wears dreadlocks -- is a reason he became a suspect, Jezic and Moyse said. The victims of that robbery said one of the attackers had dreadlocks and a cap.

About 5 1/2 hours after the Auth Road robbery, about 4 a.m. June 8, police were called to the scene of a robbery about five miles away, Jezic said. Johnson, who had been out at a nightclub, was spotted walking with two other men about six blocks from that robbery, Jezic said. The victim of the later robbery was brought to the street where Johnson and his friends were detained and said Johnson was not his attacker, Jezic said.

Nonetheless, detectives put Johnson's picture in a photo array, and Hall and Flemings identified him as one of the men who had robbed them. The third victim said she could not identify anyone from the photo array.


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