Motives For Eastport Shooting Remain Entangled

September 27, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Prosecutor Frank Ragione says he's not sure why Sylvester Wayne "Tink" Johnson was murdered as he sat sleeping in his car in a back alleynear the Eastport Terrace housing project.

Yesterday, after a 24-year-old Annapolis man became the second person to admit to a role inthe shooting, Ragione grimaced at the thought of being pinned down on the subject.

After all, he's got two more co-defendants to prosecute -- including the man charged with the shooting. In all, four people are suspected of having taken part in the Jan. 14, 1991 killing.

But information that has surfaced since Johnson was found dead, slumped behind the wheel of his yellow 1981 Datsun 280Z, suggests the best theory maybe one involving a pre-emptive strike against the 22-year-old.

"I'm only surmising," Ragione stressed. And then he said a possible motive was word had gotten out that Johnson was going to take action fordrug money owed to him.

"For some reason, it was getting around town that Sylvester Johnson was going to blow up Chapman in his Blazer," the prosecutor said.

Chapman is David Marshall "Manzie" Chapman, the 24-year-old who pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree murder in Johnson's death.

In return for the plea, Chapman, of the 100 block of O'Bery Court, will receive a 25-year prison sentence, with seven years suspended. He remains free on $75,000 bond pending his sentencing, set for Dec. 16.

Howard Eugene Stevens Jr., 24, of the first block Gilmore St., Annapolis, and Gary Ellis "Peanut" Brown Jr., 20, with addresses on O'Bery Court, Spa Cove Road and Solomons IslandRoad, are scheduledto stand trial Nov. 7 on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy.

Police records show Stevens admitted to killing Johnson, but at a pretrial hearing in the case set for Oct. 28, defense attorney William H. Murphy Jr. is expected to ask a judge to throw out his client's confession.

The fourth man, Christopher Dean Jones, 22, pleaded guilty in July to being an accessory to murder after the fact. He has admitted to driving the other three men to the shooting scene, court records show.

Johnson's murder -- he was described as a former police informant -- was seen as a sign of escalating violence in Annapolis' housing projects. One alderman was promptedto propose putting fences around the projects, an idea that did not take hold.

Within eight days of the slaying, however, police were interviewing Stevens, who reportedly admitted to shooting Johnson andsaid Chapman had been there, too, shotgun in hand.

In a statementof facts read into the court record yesterday, Ragione described theevents surrounding Johnson's death early Jan. 14. He cited the testimony of several witnesses who would have been called had the case gone to trial.

The prosecutor said Lashawn Ruby Hunter would have testified that Johnson ate pizza and watched a movie with her at her home in the 1100 block of President Street. Hunter walked Johnson to hiscar, parked in the alley behind President Street, and left him about1:30 a.m., Ragione said. Hunter heard the car start but didn't hear Johnson drive off.

Hunter woke up the next morning and noticed thecar was still there, the prosecutor said. Johnson was dead.

AprilMichelle Diggs was prepared to testify Chapman and co-defendants Stevens, Brown and Jones left her home in the first block of College Creek Terrace, Annapolis, around midnight Jan. 14, Ragione said. Diggs would have testified Chapman, Brown and Stevens were armed and Jones was the driver.

When the men returned later, Jones appeared nervousand Diggs heard the others talking about how he had been driving "crazy" -- apparently stopping for stop signs while making a getaway, Ragione said.

Patricia Denise Gray, the mother of Chapman's child, would have testified he told her he shot at the car with Johnson in it. Ragione said Earline Tongue was prepared to tell a jury that Chapman, when asked if he had heard about John son's death, had replied, "That's what he gets for threatening my mother."

Jones would have testified he drove when the men went searching for Johnson and found him sleeping in his car, the prosecutor said. After driving around the corner to wait for the men, Jones heard shots, the prosecutor said.

Ragione said an autopsy showed Johnson died of multiple gunshot wounds from a midcaliber weapon -- not the shotgun Chapman reportedly was carrying. Chapman apparently fired three blasts, but all three hit the car, the prosecutor said.

Court records show Stevens, in an interview with police, admitted shooting Johnson with a .38-caliber revolver. The suspect told police he and the co-defendants set out for Johnson because he had threatened some of Stevens' friends over money that was owed to him. Court records also show Stevens told police Brown did not fire on Johnson because his gun jammed.

Stevens and Johnson were brothers-in-law.

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