Two men accused in the murder of Latisha Frazier will be tried separately, after Judge William Jackson agreed to sever their cases yesterday.
Johnnie Sweets and Brian Gaither are charged with first-degree murder in connection with Frazier’s death. They are also charged with felony murder and “aggravating circumstances.” Those circumstances are that Frazier’s death was “especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel” and that it was also “committed during the course of a kidnapping.”
Police and prosecutors believe that Frazier was the victim of a brutal attack by six people. According to court documents, the 18-year-old was beaten, stomped, bound, taped, gagged, prodded and choked. Her head was covered with a sheet. Tossed into a closet, she finally died. Her body was thrown into a dumpster and hasn’t been found, though it’s believed to be in a landfill.
Gaither’s defense attorney, Eugene Ohm, asked the court to sever the case in January. In the motion, Gaither claimed that if his case were to remain joined with Sweets’, Sweets’ statement to police would prejudice the case against Gaither and that Sweets would be acting as a “second prosecutor” to Gaither.
The motion to sever stated:
According to government discovery, it alleges that Mr. Sweet believed that Ms. Frazier stole money from him in the summer of 2010. Mr. Sweet, the government alleges, devised a plan to lure Ms. Frazier to his apartment so that they could physically punish her. Mr. Sweet devised this plan with his brother Laurence Hassan and some of his friends, Mdmes. Proctor, Nelson and Bell. The government contends that Ms. Frazier came to the apartment at Mr. Sweet’s invitation and that the five individuals, along with Brian Gaither, assaulted her. The government asserts that at some point, Ms. Frazier lost consciousness and was gagged. The government believes that Ms. Frazier died from the restraints or from a chokehold prior to restraint.
Mr. Sweet and Mr. Gaither both made statements to Metropolitan Police Detectives. Mr. Sweet’s statement involves Mr. Gaither’s and alletes that Mr. Gaither was present and actively participating in all of the aspects of this crime.
The information available to undersigned counsel indicates that Mr. Sweet’s defense will attempt to exonerate him by pointing an accusing finger at Mr. Gaither. Because Mr. Sweet’s defense will attempt to portray Mr. Gaither as the primary actor in this incident, a substantial danger exists that the evidence and arguments presented by Mr. Sweet would provide the basis of the jury’s conviction of Mr. Gaither.
Prosecutors had opposed the severance, but last week changed their position and filed notice with the court that they were prepared to proceed with separate trials for the men.
On Thursday, Judge Jackson ordered a mental health screening for Sweets. The results of that screening are due in court Friday afternoon.
Both men remained scheduled for status hearings on July 26 and trials on Nov. 19 at this time.