Johnnie Sweet, a District teenager, persuaded a group of his friends to beat and stomp to death another teen from the neighborhood before one friend placed the victim’s body in a dumpster, a federal prosecutor told a D.C. Superior Court jury Tuesday.
Sweet, now 19, orchestrated the plan to kill Latisha M. Frazier, 18 at the time of her death in August 2010, because he erroneously believed she had stolen $900 from him, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh said in opening the government’s case.
Five of Sweet’s friends have since pleaded guilty to various charges associated with Frazier’s death, leaving only Sweet maintaining his innocence.
Kavanaugh told the jury that Sweet persuaded all five friends, three teenage girls and two men, to beat Frazier after he lured her back to his apartment in the 1700 block of Trenton Place SE after she finished her shift at a McDonald’s in Temple Hills.
Sweet’s friends were waiting in a bedroom and surprised Frazier, who was still wearing her McDonald’s uniform. Joined by Sweet, they kicked, punched and stomped Frazier, bound her wrists and ankles, covered her face with a sheet and forced her into a closet, where she eventually died. Kavanaugh said Sweet then tried to dismember Frazier’s body in a bathtub. Eventually, one of his friends put her body in a trash crate and threw it in a dumpster behind the apartment building. Her body has never been recovered.
Kavanaugh said there was no evidence that Frazier ever stole, or even knew, about Sweet’s money. Unlike the six who beat her, Kavanaugh said, Frazier worked to support her young daughter, Diamond.
Kavanaugh told the jury Frazier was targeted because she had started working and stopped hanging around with the others. “She was never truly accepted by the group,” he said. “That ultimately led to her death.”
If convicted, Sweet faces life in prison. Prosecutors have twice offered plea deals in which they said they would request sentences of no more than 30 to 40 years. Sweet, through his court-appointed attorney, James Rudasill, rejected both. Rudasill said his client did not orchestrate the fatal attack. Sweet’s friends killed Frazier, he said, without Sweet’s knowledge. “He did not want her to die,” Rudasill said.
Earlier this month, Sweet’s best friend, Brian Gaither, 25, was sentenced to 32 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder. Cinthya Proctor, 21, and Laurence Kamal Hassan, 24, pleaded guilty to various charges, including second-degree murder and kidnapping. Both are awaiting sentencing. Court records indicate that the case of Aneka Nelson, 18, is pending before a grand jury.
The sixth defendant, Lanee Bell, 19, was released from jail after her arrest. She later pleaded guilty to felony kidnapping. She is scheduled to be sentenced later this year. Now a nursing student at Trinity University, Bell took the witness stand in Judge Russell F. Canan’s courtroom and calmly told the jury how she beat Frazier because Sweet had asked her to. “It was,” she said, “a peer-pressure thing.”