Expert testifies gang beating death was a rite gone wrong
July 19, 2007
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The six-minute beating in which nine men punched Sgt. Juwan Johnson more than 200 times was a Gangster Disciples rite of passage gone wrong, a gang expert said Wednesday.
Johnson was found dead in his barracks room hours after the July 3, 2005, beating.
Detective John Bowman, head gang investigator with the Killeen, Texas, Police Department, testified Wednesday during the third day in the court-martial of Pvt. Terrence Norman.
The 22-year-old Norman faces four charges, including involuntary manslaughter, in Johnson’s death. If convicted on all charges, Norman could spend 19 years behind bars.
The jury was scheduled to begin deliberating Thursday morning.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Capt. Chandra LaGrone, Bowman testified that aspects of Johnson’s beating were unusual for a gang initiation.
Jump-in ceremonies for Gangster Disciples can involve three people beating an initiate for 60 seconds or six people beating an initiate for 30 seconds, Bowman said. Prior to the Johnson case, the longest Bowman knew of a gang initiation lasting was 90 seconds.
“I’ve never heard of a six-minute jump in,” he said. “That’s a long time for anybody to throw hands.”
Pvt. Latisha Ellis has testified the beating lasted six minutes. The number six holds particular significance with the gang because one of its symbols is a six-pointed star.
Johnson was scheduled to leave the Army three weeks after the date of his beating. Under questioning from LaGrone, Bowman said he never heard of a jump-in ceremony happening so close to the time a person was set to leave the area where a gang operated.
“Usually, jump-ins are for the good of the gang,” he said.
Col. Kathleen Ingwersen, the medical examiner who performed Johnson’s autopsy, testified that the 25-year-old died from multiple blunt force injuries and that, medically, Johnson’s death was a homicide.
Despite an eyewitness who testified Johnson was hit more than 200 times, Ingwersen said the autopsy showed Johnson did not have broken bones, chipped teeth or swollen eyes. She did not detect any bruising on his face at the time of the autopsy.
“I expected more injuries given the history of this, but I’m not surprised,” Ingwersen said.
The autopsy showed Johnson suffered severe injuries to his brain and heart.
The prosecution rested its case around 11 a.m. Wednesday, and the defense followed suit shortly thereafter.
In her closing argument, prosecuting attorney Capt. Jocelyn Stewart told the panel that when they consider every piece of evidence, she is confident they will convict Norman.
“The evidence presented over the past several days will leave you convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused’s guilt,” Stewart said.
Defense attorney Maj. Sean Wilson called only two witnesses. Their testimony barely lasted 10 minutes.
During his closing argument, Wilson questioned the credibility of prosecution witnesses — particularly the testimony of Ellis, an eyewitness, and Spc. Terance Pope.
“The details will show how those stories completely and utterly fall apart,” Wilson said.
Staff Sgts. Roger LeBlanc and Sermior Mitchell both testified that they knew Pope to be untruthful.
Pope earlier testified that he drove Norman to a Kaiserslautern tattoo parlor sometime between July and September 2005 so Norman could get a Gangster Disciple tattoo covered up before speaking with Army investigators.
Also Wednesday, prosecutors dismissed Norman’s charge of making a false official statement. The dismissal lowered his maximum potential jail time from 31½ years to 19 years.