Brook man faces 50 years in prison

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Jurors returned mixed guilty verdicts Tuesday in the trial of aBrookhaven man charged in connection with five burglaries ofLincoln County homes last December.

Facing trial on five counts of burglary and one count ofconspiracy, 37-old William O. Johnson was convicted of conspiracy,one count of burglary and four lesser counts of accessory after thefact of burglary. The jury deliberated about two hours beforereaching the verdicts.

“They thought it out pretty well, I believe,” said AssistantDistrict Attorney Jerry Rushing about the jurors’ action.

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Johnson, of 226 South Washington St., had faced a maximum 130years in prison on the original charges but now faces a maximum of50 years following the convictions. Sentencing is scheduled forFriday at 1 p.m. before Judge Keith Starrett.

An appeal of the verdicts is expected.

“William Johnson has maintained his innocence throughout thewhole thing,” said Public Defender Rebecca Taylor.

In opening statements during the one-day trial, Rushing saidJohnson was not responsible for actually going into the five homesburglarized on Dec. 14, but it was his responsibility to findbuyers for the items that were stolen.

Items taken included several televisions, VCRs, microwave ovensand Christmas presents from under the tree at one home. The stolenitems were then brought to mobile home that belonged anacquaintance of a co-defendant.

Three co-defendants, Derrick Bass, 20, of Jackson; Elijah Kelly,34, of Bogue Chitto; and James Bryant, 18, of Brookhaven, pleadedguilty earlier in the case. Bass and Kelly received prisonsentences while Bryant was placed in the Regimented InmateDiscipline program.

During the trial, a G-Store clerk testified that Johnson triedto sell her a television after he was dropped off at the SouthFirst Street store and later came to her home to again try to sellher the television along with a VCR and microwave. She rejected theoffers.

Also, a local pawn shop owner testified that Johnson pawned amicrowave oven for $25 at his business. Under cross-examination, hesaid Johnson had sold other items and none of them had beenstolen.

In her opening, Taylor said the items Johnson was selling camefrom a breakup between Bass and his girlfriend and it was “notunusual” to try selling those things in an effort to help a friend.Since Johnson was unable to sell the television, Taylor said he was”not doing a good job” as a salesman.

“He certainly wasn’t going all over town asking people to buystolen merchandise,” Taylor said.

Lance Falvey, investigator with the Lincoln County Sheriff’sDepartment, testified about the burglaries and items taken,specifically a television with specks of white paint. He saidJohnson and Kelly were stopped late Dec. 14 and in the truck bedwas a television with specks of white paint.

A highlight of Tuesday’s trial involved Bass and statements heallegedly made about Johnson’s involvement during a pre-trialmeeting with attorneys Monday. After Bass refused to repeat thestatements on the witness stand Tuesday, Falvey was called torepeat what he heard Bass say earlier.

“He said it was Will’s job to get buyers for the stuff they weregetting from the houses,” Falvey said after a defense hearsayobjection was overruled.

In other testimony, Falvey admitted there had beeninconsistencies from Bass, but he was “absolutely consistent everysingle time” when talking about Johnson’s role.

Johnson was convicted of burglary on the charge related to thetelevision he was trying to sell to the convenience storeclerk.

Rushing said the accessory after the fact convictions suggestedthe jury questioned Johnson’s prior knowledge about the four otherburglaries, but that he understood what to do after the items weretaken.

“He knew the property was stolen that they brought back to thehouse,” Rushing said.