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Donson v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 16, 2019

JOHNNIE DONSON APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CR-17-274] HONORABLE ALEX GUYNN, JUDGE

          Tinsley & Youngdahl, PLLC, by: Jordan B. Tinsley, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Adam Jackson, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          OPINION

          LARRY D. VAUGHT, JUDGE

         Johnnie Donson was charged with capital murder after Marcus Washington was fatally shot on January 4, 2017. Johnnie, born on February 12, 1999, was seventeen years old at the time of the shooting. He filed a motion to transfer his case to the juvenile division of the circuit court and for extended juvenile jurisdiction (EJJ) designation. After a hearing on the motion, the Jefferson County Circuit Court entered an order denying Johnnie's motion. On appeal, Johnnie contends that the circuit court clearly erred in denying the motion to transfer his case to the juvenile division.[1] We affirm.

         At the hearing on Johnnie's motion, Detective Steven Rucker of the Pine Bluff Police Department testified that on January 4, 2017, he responded to a shooting at Tamika Sims's residence. There, Detective Rucker found Marcus in his vehicle fatally shot. The detective stated that officers at the scene found multiple shell casings on the ground and bullet holes in two vehicles (Marcus's and Tamika's) and in Tamika's home.

         In his investigation, Detective Rucker obtained surveillance video that showed Johnnie driving a white Impala pulling into a gas station on January 4 around 1:11 a.m. While Johnnie was pumping gas, Marcus arrived at the gas station and pumped gas into his vehicle. Marcus entered the convenience store, and Johnnie drove away. According to Detective Rucker, the video next shows Joshua Donson (Johnnie's brother) and Dataevonne Tatum in a Ford Focus pulling into the gas station. They circled Marcus's vehicle, parked, and watched Marcus. Marcus left the gas station, and about thirty-five seconds later, the Ford Focus left the station.

         Detective Rucker also obtained video footage from a nearby liquor store. The detective testified that in that video, numerous gunshots could be heard around 1:44 a.m. The detective stated that there was an initial burst of gunfire, a pause, and then a second round of gunfire. Detective Rucker further testified that the video showed Johnnie's white Impala being driven away from the scene of the shooting with its lights off, followed closely by the Ford Focus.[2]

         Isaiah Washington (Marcus's cousin) testified that he, Marcus, and two others were in Marcus's vehicle backed into the driveway of Tamika's residence when a white car drove by followed closely by a second vehicle whose occupants were shooting at Marcus's vehicle. According to Isaiah, both the vehicles stopped about twenty yards away from Marcus's vehicle, and then the occupants of both vehicles exited and started walking toward Marcus's vehicle shooting guns the entire time. Isaiah, who had known Johnnie before the shooting, said that he did not see Johnnie fire a weapon that night, but Isaiah could not affirmatively state that Johnnie was not present.

         Gujuan Christmas testified that he had been in jail with Johnnie after Marcus's murder and that Johnnie discussed his involvement in the shooting. Johnnie said he and Jaylin Cobbs got into an altercation at a club with Marcus and Isaiah because Isaiah took Cobbs's gun. Johnnie said that he and his friends followed Marcus to find Isaiah and that he (Johnnie) shot at Marcus. On another occasion, Johnnie described the shooting to Gujuan but did not admit being one of the shooters. According to Gujuan, in every version of Johnnie's story, he was at the scene of the shooting.

         In support of his motion to transfer, Johnnie presented the testimony of several witnesses. Johnnie's mother, Kanshia Collins, testified that growing up, Johnnie was an "angel child." She said that he was a nerd and had straight As in school, he regularly attended church, and he followed the rules of her house. She said that Johnnie started to change when he was around sixteen years old after his stepfather died and his brother Joshua was shot. Kanshia said that Johnnie started to smoke marijuana, hang around the wrong people, sneak out of her home, and stay out late. She said he is highly susceptible to peer pressure and is immature.

         Aisha Shackelford testified that she had been Johnnie's supervisor at Taco Bell for about six months when he was sixteen. She stated that he was a good employee, had a good work ethic, was responsible and respectful, and had the maturity of a teenager. She said that she did not see him be violent or aggressive and that he was susceptible to negative influences in the community.

         Brooke Digby, the coordinator of the juvenile-ombudsman division of the Public Defender Commission, testified that the juvenile brain is not fully developed, which is why the criminal-justice system treats juveniles differently. She stated that the purpose of the juvenile-justice system is to rehabilitate juveniles. She said that despite Johnnie's age (nineteen at the time of the hearing) and the capital-murder charge against him, there are rehabilitative programs within the juvenile system available to him. Brooke stated that if Johnnie is transferred to juvenile court and receives an EJJ designation, the juvenile court may retain jurisdiction over the him until he reaches twenty-one years of age. She stated that he could be committed to the Division of Youth Services (DYS) or seek admission into programs like Job Corps and Teen Challenge. She also said that under the provisions of EJJ, the juvenile court's retaining jurisdiction may also impose an adult prison sentence if the court makes a finding that the juvenile has violated an order of the court, has committed a new offense, or is not amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile system. Brooke did not offer an opinion as to Johnnie's chances of being rehabilitated because she had not met him.

          Johnnie's former youth pastor, Michael Jenkins, testified that Johnnie attended church regularly for a year in 2014; he was in the choir; and he was respectful, mild, meek, and humble. Michael stated that Johnnie's maturity level was high for someone his age. Michael also stated that while he had not seen Johnnie recently, he believed Johnnie could be rehabilitated.

         Kevin Crumpton, Johnnie's probation officer, testified that Johnnie was currently on probation after having been adjudicated delinquent on two felony drug charges and one misdemeanor fleeing charge stemming from an incident on January 10, 2017. While on probation, Johnnie had one positive drug screen for THC. However, Kevin testified that before January 2017, Johnnie had no charges. Kevin believed that juvenile rehabilitation is effective.

         In the circuit court's order denying Johnnie's motion to transfer and for EJJ designation, the court summarized the hearing testimony in ...


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