In court on Wednesday, Iris Moore calmly recalled Grant Johnson, on trial for killing her son, as the boy “who grew up with my kids down the street.”
Johnson was part of the family, Moore said, along with her sons Jeremiah and Ricardo.
But Ricardo is now dead and Johnson, who called Moore “mom” and Jeremiah his best friend, is standing trial charged with murder. Prosecutors say he killed Ricardo Lancaster, “for a couple hundred dollars and a cell phone.”
Johnson is charged with first-degree murder while armed, first-degree premeditated murder, armed robbery, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, unlawful possession of a firearm and carrying a pistol outside a home or business in connection with Lancaster’s death.
Opening statements were heard in the case Wednesday.
Lancaster was 32 years old when he was found by police on May 31, 2012 in the driver’s seat of an SUV parked in the 800 block of Burns Street Southeast at about 6:53 a.m. He was unconscious and injured with two gunshot wounds. The driver’s side window of the vehicle was open, MPD officer Bryan Eagle said.
In the coming days, prosecutors expect testimony from the medical examiner to show that one shot lodged a bullet in Lancaster’s jaw; a “survivable” wound. But a second shot, fired at close range, proved fatal.
In opening arguments, prosecutor Kimberley Nielson told jurors that physical evidence, including a Doritos bag with DNA on it and cell phone records, ties Johnson to the crime.
Moore, Lancaster’s mother, said the two men weren’t close— Johnson was much closer with her elder son, Jeremiah, and she couldn’t remember if Johnson attended her son’s funeral.
But prosecutors say cell phone records from the night Lancaster was shot will show that Johnson called the man repeatedly, “blowing up” Lancaster’s phone, Nielson said. Records show that after 9:19 p.m., Lancaster made or received seven phone calls from Johnson. The last call was placed at 11:29 p.m., from Lancaster to Johnson.
According to cell phone data, the record of that call indicated that Johnson in the area where Lancaster was found dead, Nielson said.
Cell phone data collection is usually based on a system of triangulation, which allows investigators to shade in an area where a cell phone was used but does not provide specifics as to the phone’s exact location.
Jeffrey Stein, Johnson’s attorney, said that the evidence did place Johnson “somewhere in the general area” where Lancaster’s body was found, but that cell phone records don’t “equate to him being present on the crime scene or participating in the murder.”
Calling the government’s case full of “guesswork and speculation,” Stein said that to believe that Johnson robbed and murdered “his best friend’s little brother” defied basic sense.
The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday in Judge Herbert Dixon’s courtroom.