Monday, February 11, 2008

Man May Be Cleared in 1992 Slaying

DNA testing could reverse Miss. murder conviction for first time

February 11, 2008

Heather Civil- The Clarion Ledger

The niece of longtime death-row inmate Kennedy Brewer always believed he was innocent of the 1992 rape and killing of a 3-year-old girl and says the arrest of another man in the case justified her trust in him.

This week's arrest of former suspect Justin Albert Johnson, 51, of Brooksville in Chickasaw County "is very good news," said Paulina Brewer. But "I knew that he didn't do it from the beginning."

Johnson was arrested Monday on charges of capital murder and sexual battery of a child under the age of 14. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bond in the Chickasaw County Jail, a jail official confirmed Thursday.

Christine Jackson, the daughter of Kennedy Brewer's former girlfriend, was taken from her home near Brooksville in the middle of the night in May 1992. Her body was found the next day. She had been beaten, raped and strangled. Her body was found clothed at a creek near her home.

"It was a horrendous death the child suffered," said state Attorney General Jim Hood, whose office will prosecute Johnson. The district attorney in Chickasaw County stepped aside because of a conflict, Hood said.

When asked, Hood declined comment on whether testing on Johnson's DNA and DNA found at the crime scene led to the break in the case.

No additional information was available on the suspect.

Brewer's case could represent the first time in Mississippi that DNA evidence has led to a murder conviction being overturned. The Mississippi Innocence Project, a prisoner-advocacy group, championed the case and pushed for an appeal based on DNA testing.

Hood said the Innocence Project had requested his involvement in the case. The charges against Brewer will remain in effect for now, but will be dropped if he's exonerated, Hood said.

Mississippi Innocence Project attorney Vanessa Potkin, who is representing Brewer, says charges against him could be dropped as early as Thursday.

"It's been a long time coming," Potkin said.

After a five-day trial in 1995, Brewer was sentenced to die by lethal injection for the girl's death.

He was moved off death row in 2002 when a DNA test showed his semen did not match the semen found on the victim, but he remained jailed in Noxubee County five more years before being released on bond last September pending a new trial.

Because then-District Attorney Forrest Allgood of Noxubee County was seeking the death penalty in the retrial, Brewer was held.

Lafayette County District Attorney Ben Creekmore took the case in March 2006 and chose not to seek the death penalty and not to oppose bail.

Brewer, who had babysat Christine Jackson the night she went missing, was convicted primarily on the testimony of Dr. Michael West, a Hattiesburg dentist who identified bite marks on Christine's body and testified that several of them were made by Brewer.

At the time of the trial, West had been suspended from the American Board of Forensic Odontology and had resigned from the American Academy of Forensic Science and the International Association of Identification, pending expulsion.

A defense expert testified the wounds were not human bite marks. Allgood, who had tried the case against Brewer, said he is loath to express an opinion about the arrest of another suspect.

No comments: