As the second day of testimony began Wednesday, Johnnie Sweet rejected yet another plea overture from the government, saying that he would not agree to any deal that would require him to spend more time in prison than the man he says is most culpable for Latisha Frazier’s death- Brian Gaither.
Before the jury was escorted into the courtroom Wednesday, Sweet’s defense attorney, James Rudasill Jr., stated in open court that he spoke with Sweet until around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening in an attempt to convince him to accept the government’s plea offer.
“It is my professional assessment of this case that accepting the government’s plea offer is in his best interest,” Rudasill said.
Sweet is charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, kidnapping and evidence tampering in connection with the August 2010 beating death of Latisha Frazier; several co-defendants in the case have already pled guilty to murder and kidnapping. Frazier’s body was never found.
The plea discussions marked the second time in as many days that trial proceedings were halted so that Sweet could state his desire to continue with the trial.
Rudasill said Wednesday that Sweet had reservations about accepting the plea because he believes that Gaither is more culpable for the murder than he is. Sweet would not agree to a plea deal requiring him to serve more time in prison than Gaither, Rudasill said. Gaither pled guilty in the case and was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
Before resuming trial, Judge Russell Canan expressed concern over the “back and forth” decisions about whether to plea or go to trial. He then asked Sweet if he wished to enter a guilty plea.
After a long pause, Sweet scratched his chin and said, “No.”
Latisha Frazier’s mother, Caroline Frazier, testified Wednesday that the last day she saw her daughter was on August 1, 2010, when the family went to a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. The next day she tried calling and sending text messages to Frazier, but there was no response. On Aug. 4, she reported Frazier missing to police.
Caroline Frazier said that from the time she realized her daughter was missing until the first suspect arrest in 2011 she handed out missing persons fliers in the neighborhood where people had last seen Latisha. One day, she saw Sweet walking in the area and she gave him a flier and asked if he had seen her daughter. Sweet said, “Nah,” and then walked away, Caroline Frazier said.
A different witness testified that in mid-August, while sitting on her porch late at night, she saw Sweet “pulling down the fliers” that Caroline Frazier had posted around the neighborhood. The witness said that Sweet “balled them up, and threw them in the trash.” The next day, Caroline Frazier put the fliers back up again; later that night, the witness saw Sweet rip them back down.
Antoine McCullough, the man who pled guilty to assisting Gaither in disposing of Frazier’s body, testified Wednesday that in early August 2010 Gaither knocked on his front door and asked to speak in private. McCullough said that they spoke in the bathroom where Gaither asked if he would help remove a body from Sweet’s home.
“He said he wanted to take it to the dumpster,” McCullough told the court.
McCullough said that when he arrived at Sweet’s home there was a gray bin near the bathroom that contained a black plastic bag and was covered by a blanket. The bin weighed about 150 lbs, he said. McCullough testified that he never looked in the black bag, but he helped Gaither drag the bin to a dumpster in the 1700 block of Trenton Place Southeast.
“We took the entire bin and threw it over the top of the dumpster,” McCullough told the court.
He later realized that the body may have been Frazier’s after seeing news reports and missing person fliers. McCullough said that he never told anyone until he called detectives in early April 2011.
McCullough said that after speaking with police without an attorney, he agreed to testify in front of the grand jury and pled guilty to conspiracy tampering with physical evidence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh asked McCullough Wednesday why he decided to speak with police without an attorney.
“It doesn’t take a lawyer to tell the truth,” McCullough said.
Michael Cummings, an educator with the incarcerated youth program, testified that he taught Social Studies at the D.C. jail in May 2011 while Sweet was in custody. Cummings testified that Sweet was his student for a month, and one day Sweet asked, “If a crime was committed in D.C. and a body was found in Virginia, who would have jurisdiction?”
Cummings said that he responded, “I’ll get back to you,” and then emailed the MPD tip line.
The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning in Judge Canan’s courtroom.