A grim-faced Fabian Johnson, accused of the city’s sole murder of 2011, rocked back and forth in his chair as city prosecutors outlined their case against him Wednesday morning.
Johnson, 19, of Washington, D.C., faces a first-degree murder charge in connection with the shooting death of local man Bob Cory McNeely, 40, on October 20. Authorities arrested Johnson in Georgia on November 3.
Krista Boucher and Bryan Porter of the city’s commonwealth’s attorney office are prosecuting the case.
Flanked by bailiffs during a preliminary hearing presided over by Judge Becky Moore in general district court, Johnson watched as the prosecution’s eyewitness, Dwayne Hall, testified about McNeely’s final hours before the late night shooting on the 1200 block of Wythe St.
Hall told the court he had joined McNeely, an old friend, earlier that evening. They later bumped into Johnson and three other young men in Old Town. Johnson and McNeely knew each other — they had fought a few days prior — and McNeely wanted an apology, Hall recounted.
After apparently settling their differences the two groups split, but they crossed paths again on the corner of Fayette and Wythe streets not long after. McNeely pulled their car over and left to speak with the group, Hall said.
While the men talked, Hall borrowed McNeely’s phone to make a call and turned his back on the escalating conversation. Minutes later, Hall remembered flinching at the sound of a gunshot.
He twirled back around and saw McNeely had his hands raised inches from Johnson, who was wielding a black revolver, Hall testified. Two more gunshots went off in quick succession and McNeely fell to the ground, knocking Johnson over.
“I seen his head jerk back, and when the third shot went off I saw him flinch like he had the wind knocked out of him,” Hall told the court, clapping to imitate gunfire.
The three other young men ran away and Johnson, who Hall recognized but did not know personally, followed. The witness recounted jogging after them to see which way they ran before returning to the scene, where he found McNeely slumped on the street.
“He rose up off the ground and, like, shook himself off,” Hall testified. “I immediately went toward him. I seen it wasn’t looking good, and I seen a police cruiser coming down and directed [them] to [where Johnson fled].”
Officers found McNeely in the front lawn of a residence not far from the scene shortly after 10:10 p.m. that night. Though he was transported to a local hospital, McNeely succumbed to a gunshot wound to his upper body.
Johnson’s attorney, Christopher Leibig, questioned the accuracy of Hall’s account. A self-described drug addict with a criminal history, Hall admitted shooting up on heroin about 8 a.m. that day.
Despite repeated objections by Porter, Leibig delved into Hall’s past, including a litany of drug abuse, parole violations and multiple arrests. He also alleged McNeely had PCP, commonly known as angel dust, in his system when he died.
Hall denied doing drugs with McNeely that day or knowing McNeely had taken PCP — or any other drug other than a couple swigs of alcohol — before or after the two got together.
Leibig called two other witnesses, both city police officers, to testify what they saw at the crime scene. With the preliminary hearing out of the way, the case heads to a grand jury, which meets on the second Monday of each month, for indictment. At the earliest, the murder trial will likely start in the spring.