When Daryll Johnson busted into his missing girlfriend’s home in Algiers in 2013, he was confronted with her bloody body. She had been beaten, cut and strangled. Someone had smashed the house’s fish tank, and blood was splattered everywhere.
Johnson wailed so loudly at the sight that he was handcuffed by responding police officers. But as his trial on one count of second-degree murder began Tuesday, a prosecutor said he was just putting on an act.
Johnson, 24, stands accused of killing his girlfriend Kinya Keller, 30, in a brutal act of domestic violence that followed an alleged attack on his own mother two months earlier.
Prosecutors say DNA evidence and Johnson’s own shifting statements add up to proof of his guilt. But his defense attorneys say the lead detective on the case created a made-for-television narrative because he was being filmed for an episode of the A&E reality show “The First 48.”
In an unusual development, Criminal District Court Judge Paul Bonin authorized a warrant for the arrest of Johnson’s mother, Juanita Ogden, in order to force her to testify about her son's alleged earlier attack on her. Prosecutors said the step was made necessary by her repeated attempts to dodge a subpoena to appear in court.
A woman was found beaten and strangled inside a home in Algiers on Thursday afternoon, the O…
The police investigation into Keller’s death began as Johnson broke through the door to her house at 909 Lamarque St. in Algiers on Oct. 3, 2013. Keller’s mother was at his side as they discovered her body.
“Kinya Keller died in a way no human should die. She was left beaten, strangled, sliced up,” Assistant District Attorney Inga Petrovich said in her opening statement.
Police cordoned off the scene and began collecting evidence. An officer testified Tuesday that Johnson was screaming and pushing his way through the crowd.
“He was being really, really loud. Really irate,” said Lindy Collins III, a former 4th District officer who resigned from the NOPD in 2014. “It was a very somber scene. Everybody else was depressed that this lady, or this little girl, had died.”
Detectives took Johnson to Police Department headquarters for an interview. In a video-recorded statement played to the jury on Tuesday, they pressed him on why one of his hands was bruised and why he had cuts on one arm.
As the lengthy interrogation wore on, detectives grew increasingly aggressive in questioning Johnson about discrepancies in his story.
“I need to know the truth. You’re lying about everything!” the lead detective, Gregory Johnson, shouted at his suspect.
“That’s my mama. I would never choke her. And me and my girlfriend did not have no fight,” Daryll Johnson said.
Detective Johnson testified that crime scene technicians collected evidence from the house on Lamarque Street that would eventually place Daryll Johnson at the crime scene.
The defense team’s cross-examination of the detective is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning. A defense attorney said she will attack his credibility and the thoroughness of his investigation.
Sarah Chervinsky said the detective felt pressure to pin the crime on someone because he was being followed by a film crew from “The First 48.”
“There was a countdown. There was a literal clock clicking in his head,” Chervinsky said. “The premise of that show: If you don’t have a suspect within the first 48 hours, you likely never will.”
She said police failed to collect crucial evidence from the homicide scene including a knife and a blood-stained boot.
Chervinsky told jurors there was another reason Gregory Johnson rushed to judgment in the case. He had also investigated the June 2012 killing of Keller’s brother, Lonnie Johnson, 21.
“He felt this case personally. He felt a sense of loyalty to them; he felt a sense of duty and obligation,” Chervinsky said. “He was too close.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors hope to use the testimony of Daryll Johnson’s mother to buttress their claim that he had a violent temper and a history of choking women around him.
Juanita Ogden called police in August 2013 to report that her son had pushed her into a couch and choked her nearly to the point of unconsciousness, according to prosecutors.
Petrovich said that Ogden routinely appeared in court for her son’s hearings but stopped showing up once she realized she might be called to testify. Petrovich said Ogden also has been dodging a subpoena for her testimony.
Bonin seemed reluctant to authorize the warrant for Ogden’s arrest, and at one point asked the members of the courtroom audience to call her to appear.
“If anyone else in the courtroom knows her and wants to help avoid her arrest, that’d be great,” Bonin said.
But in the end he signed off on the warrant, which came with a $15,000 bond. He also ordered that she be brought directly to his courtroom, instead of to the Orleans Parish jail, if she is found.
The practice of issuing so-called material witness warrants came under scrutiny last month after a report from the group Court Watch NOLA said the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office had obtained at least 30 such warrants in 2016.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has defended the practice as a necessary tool to convict violent criminals, but the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution calling on the district attorney to stop obtaining material witness warrants for rape and domestic violence victims.
Marc Mitchell didn't start out as a reluctant witness. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon…