Johnson cleared of West York murder charges
On the eve of his murder trial, Carlos "Los" Johnson refused to accept a plea agreement that would have allowed him to avoid a murder conviction but kept him in prison for at least four years.
Defense attorney Karen Comery did her best to make Johnson change his mind, she confirmed. Had he been convicted of second-degree murder, he would have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"It was a huge roll of the dice," Comery said.
On Thursday morning, after 3½ hours of jury deliberation, Johnson learned his gamble paid off. His relief was palpable.
His shoulders began to shake moments after the jury foreman pronounced him not guilty of all charges against him — second- and third-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery — in the West York murder of Lancelot Hylton.
Thanked jury: Johnson, 36, of Chambersburg, cried quietly and in a barely audible voice thanked jurors. The jury reached its verdict about 11:35 a.m. Thursday after deliberating over two days.
After Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn dismissed jurors and called a recess, Johnson grinned, shook his head and thanked Comery.
Hylton, 41, was fatally shot while on the steps of his 1100 W. King St. home Aug. 26, 2014, over an unpaid drug debt, chief deputy prosecutor David Maisch has said.
Trial testimony indicated it was Ramon "Booper" Rosario Jr. who shot Hylton in the head.
On Friday, Rosario pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. As part of his negotiated plea agreement, the 31-year-old York man was sentenced to 15 to 40 years in state prison. He also awaits sentencing on a federal case, which will run consecutively to his murder sentence, and has a state parole violation as well, officials said.
It's unknown whether the jury was influenced by hearing Johnson's taped interviews with lead West York Detective David Kahley, which Comery described to jurors as "powerful evidence" of his innocence.
"You have your murderer, ladies and gentlemen," she said during her closing argument — and it's Rosario.
Johnson repeatedly insisted to Kahley that he had nothing to do with Hylton's murder.
"When the smoke clears, you're gonna see," Johnson told the detective. "And I hope you shake my hand when this is all over."
No handshake yet: After the verdict was announced and court was adjourned, sheriff's deputies began leading Johnson back to a holding cell.
He looked over at Kahley hopefully and raised his cuffed right hand in greeting. The detective told Johnson to take it easy.
Johnson has pending felony drug-dealing charges in Adams County to which he's scheduled to plead guilty on May 23, according to court records, as well as a state parole violation. Comery said she doesn't know when he'll be released from prison.
Murder charges against a third man, David "Shoota Man" Jackson, were withdrawn by Maisch on Monday based on new information received, Maisch said. That new information came from a jailhouse snitch who testified he overheard Johnson and Rosario talking about their involvement in Hylton's murder and how Jackson had nothing to do with it. Jurors apparently didn't believe the informant.
Defense attorney Rick Robinson said Jackson has maintained he had nothing to do with the crime.
Two-time murderer: Rosario previously served state prison time for fatally shooting his 17-year-old "cousin" in the face with a shotgun when he was a juvenile.
Laquetta Dixon of Lancaster was visiting the York City home of Rosario's grandmother in the 600 block of West Princess Street in June 2002 when she and Rosario picked up guns and, joking around, pointed them at each other. Dixon and Rosario called each other cousin but weren't related by blood.
Witnesses told city detectives the teens were told to "stop messing around" before someone got hurt, and Laquetta started to put down the handgun she was holding. At the same time, Rosario pulled the trigger on the shotgun he was holding, shooting Laquetta in the face and neck, police have said.
He was found guilty of third-degree murder in March 2003 and sentenced to 7½ to 25 years in prison.
At the time, presiding Common Pleas Judge John C. Uhler decried the drug abuse and violence that prevailed in the household while Rosario was growing up.
Uhler said what the Rosario family called an accident was the direct result of their "apparent blasé attitude" to the dangers of having loaded guns in the house.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.