Police find key shooting witness

Prosecutors say man did not want to testify against his friends

December 11, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporter

Nearly three years after prosecutors dropped attempted-murder charges against the man accused of bringing to Randallstown High School a gun used in the shootings that left one student paralyzed and three others injured, authorities have found the witness that prosecutors said they need to bring the suspect to trial.

Ronald P. Johnson Jr., 23, of Owings Mills was charged last week with obstruction of justice and criminal contempt of court for failing to show up to testify when Antonio R. Jackson was scheduled for trial, court documents show.

Police have been searching for Johnson since November 2004, when officers fanned out across the Baltimore area but could not locate him to serve a summons for the trials of Jackson and co-defendant Matthew T. McCullough.

"Mr. Johnson actively eluded law enforcement, refusing to appear as a witness for the case," prosecutors wrote last week in a petition that charged him with criminal contempt of court.

In January 2005, prosecutors dismissed all charges against Jackson, 24, of Owings Mills, who was accused of bringing to Randallstown High the gun used in the shootings, handing it to one of the shooters and driving the black BMW in which the suspects fled. But they made clear that they would refile the charges whenever detectives tracked down their missing witness.

A check of court records yesterday did not turn up any new charges filed against Jackson in the Randallstown case. His attorney, however, said he expects the attempted-murder charges will be refiled.

"When they do, we've got a bunch of issues to resolve - No. 1 being his speedy trial rights," Lawrence B. Rosenberg said.

It's been 3 1/2 years since gunshots rang out in the parking lot of Randallstown High School on a sunny Friday afternoon in May 2004 as a charity basketball game was letting out. Students and staff from Randallstown testified during a six-day trial in November 2004 that a dispute had been simmering between McCullough, one of the shooters, and a football player in the days before the shootings.

When a fistfight on the parking lot turned into a brawl that McCullough and his friends were losing, one man in McCullough's group pulled a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol and fired several rounds into the crowd before handing the weapon to McCullough. Testimony showed that McCullough fired the remaining bullets into the fleeing crowd.

Four students were hit, including one who was paralyzed from the waist down after bullets pierced his neck, back and lung.

A Baltimore County judge sentenced the gunman who fired the first few shots to 50 years in prison for attempted second-degree murder and a handgun charge. After a jury acquitted McCullough of attempted-murder charges but convicted him of four counts of first-degree assault in the shootings, the judge sentenced him to 100 years in prison.

Prosecutors have said they could not go forward with the case against Jackson until they found Johnson - the only man, they said, who could identify Jackson as the person who brought the Glock handgun to the school that day.

Johnson was arrested on Thanksgiving day in Baltimore during a traffic stop, court records show. When the officers conducted a routine check of Johnson's records, they discovered the arrest warrants that had been filed in Baltimore County when he failed to show up for the Randallstown trial.

A Baltimore County grand jury indicted him Dec. 3 on a charge of obstruction of justice - a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The same day, prosecutors filed a petition charging Johnson with criminal contempt of court and signaled their intention to seek "a period of substantial incarceration" against him, according to court documents.

He is being held in the Baltimore County Detention Center without bail. Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh ordered that he be kept segregated from the rest of the jail population, court records show.

Prosecutors did not return phone messages yesterday.

"It's amazing. It was three years ago," said Rodney J. Gray, a defense attorney who represented Johnson at a bail review hearing after his arrest. "It's got to open up some old wounds for the families involved."

He said Johnson's family is concerned about his arrest, particularly given the "ridicule these witnesses endure in this day and age."

A county prosecutor said in 2005 that authorities believed Johnson was in hiding because he did not want to testify against his friends, not because he had been the victim of foul play or that he feared for his safety.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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