Michael and Thelma King murders: Appeals court overturns life sentence Johnson

POSTED: 01/2/14 12:21 AM

St. Maarten – The Common Court of Justice overturned the life sentence for Meyshane Kemar Johnson yesterday and punished the 30-year old former security guard to 30 years imprisonment for the armed robbery of the Happy Star restaurant and the murder of Thelma and Michael King on September 19 of last year. Co-defendant Jeremiah Chevon Mills saw his sentence mitigated from 28 to 25 years and the court took four years off the sentence for the third defendant in this case, Jamal Jefferson Woolford; instead of 22 years, he received an 18-year sentence.

Friends and family of the murder victims – among them Michael King’s brother Todd – attended the pronouncement of the verdicts. The court session started 1.5 hours late because interpreter Gloria O’Brien had forgotten her presence was expected in court.

The court considered all charges proven against Johnson – the robbery, the murders and laundering the money stemming from the robbery – yet it did not confirm the life sentence the Court in first Instance served him in May.

The judges rules that restraint is in order when considering life imprisonment. “This applies in particular to this case, considering the long time the now 3-0-year old suspect is reasonably expected to spend in jail until his death, if a life sentence is imposed.”

The court also considered that Johnson is a first offender “and that the crimes were completed in a matter of several hours. There is therefore no pattern of violent behavior in which the crimes would fit. In the context of all this, the court is of the opinion that life imprisonment is not called for, but that the highest possible temporary prison sentence, namely for the duration of thirty years, must be imposed on the defendant.”

The court dismissed arguments from Johnson’s attorney Brenda Brooks that the police had used excessive violence during the arrest and that this ought to result in a sentence reduction. “The reason that violence was used is due to the defendant’s resistance during his arrest. He was in hiding in a narrow space under a bed and refused to honor a request to come out of hiding. The defendant attempted to pull the balaclava from the head of one of the members of the arrest team, he hit one officer in the face and he tore away from the officers.”

The court arrived at a lower sentence for young Jeremiah Chevon Mills, because it considered that there is no proof for being an accomplice or an accessory to the murder of Thelma King. Mills told the court that he had tied up Thelma King to prevent her from calling the police, and according to Johnson Mills left the house after Johnson had cut Michael King’s throat. The court ruled that Mills could not have foreseen that Johnson would also kill Thelma King.

The court found Mills, who was 17 when the robbery and the murders occurred, guilty of the Happy Star robbery and of the murder of Michael King. Mills was near the victim when Johnson murdered him, and he also fetched a new knife for Johnson when the blade of the first weapon broke off. The court sentenced Mills to 25 years, 3 years below the verdict from the Court in First Instance.

Jamal Jefferson Woolford came away with an 18-year sentence, 4 years below the 22 years the Court in first Instance had imposed. The reason for his milder punishment is that the court acquitted him of being an accessory or an accomplice to the murders of both Michael and Thelma King. Woolford told Johnson and Mills to leave after he had stolen the goods he had come for and after he had tied up, blindfolded and gagged Thelma King. He also told Johnson not to kill Michael King.

Solicitor-general Taco Stein has a possible trip to the Supreme Court for cassation under consideration. He told the King’s family and friends after the court hearing that cassation against the Johnson ruling is complicated, because the appeals court used sound legal arguments to overturn the life sentence. Cassation against the verdicts for Woolford and Mills offer more perspective, but a decision will be taken within the next two weeks.

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