Sections

Weather Forecast

Close
Advertisement

Witnesses: Suspect admitted killing man

Email Sign up for Breaking News Alerts
news Duluth, 55802
Duluth News Tribune
(218) 723-5295 customer support
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

A Douglas County jury on Wednesday heard three witnesses testify that they heard Tiawain Johnson confess to killing Toriano Cooper in January 2012, while another witness provided an alibi for the alleged shooter.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Two witnesses said they heard Johnson confess through a phone call minutes after Cooper was shot dead while working on a car in front of a home at 1901 N. 12th St. in Superior.

A third witness said he heard Johnson confess in the Douglas County Jail.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s ex-girlfriend told the jury of eight women and four men hearing the first-degree intentional homicide case that she was with Johnson at the time of the shooting.

The credibility of witnesses frequently was called into question Wednesday, with the defense attorney and prosecutor alike arguing that witnesses had sufficient motivation to lie on the witness stand.

Jerard Hampton, who is in jail awaiting sentencing on drug charges, testified that he received a phone call from Johnson about 10 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2012, just moments after Cooper was killed.

“He said, ‘I got him,’ ” Hampton testified. “He told me he needed to get up out of here.”

Hampton said he didn’t initially know what Johnson was talking about but later pieced it together when he heard the news of Cooper’s death.

The call and Cooper’s death came just weeks after Johnson came to his house to talk about three men robbing him and his family at gunpoint, Hampton said.

At the time, Johnson reported that he was pistol-whipped while the men stole drugs and upwards of $4,000 in cash from his apartment, he said.

“He said he wanted to catch Snap,” Hampton said, referencing Cooper’s nickname. “In my mind, he was going to (expletive) him up, beat him.”

District Attorney Dan Blank asked Hampton why his white Volvo SUV was seen passing near the house Cooper was at several times in the minutes before he was shot. Hampton explained that he was partying at Johnson’s house the night before and left his car and keys there. He presumed Johnson used the car to carry out the killing.

Hampton said he went over to Johnson’s apartment later in the day. He called his demeanor “fidgety.”

“He was acting the way somebody would act when they just did something stupid,” he said.

Hampton’s girlfriend, Casey Christiansen, corroborated most of Hampton’s story, recalling Johnson coming to their apartment after the robbery. She recalled it being the evening prior, not weeks before.

Christiansen said she was awakened by a call from her mother on the morning of Jan. 15 informing her that there was a homicide in Superior. Within five minutes of finishing that call, Hampton’s phone rang, she said. Christiansen could hear the voice on the line; it was Johnson.

“I did it, I did it. I did it. It’s taken care of,” she recalled hearing Johnson say.

In later testimony, state prison inmate Byron Robinson testified that Johnson confessed to the murder while the two were in the same cell block in the Douglas County Jail.

Robinson said he had known both Johnson and Cooper before he was arrested. Hearing that Johnson was in for Cooper’s death, Robinson testified that he commented that it was “messed up” that the police believed he was responsible.

“He said Snap tried to rob him,” Robinson testified. “He said he shot him, and when he tried to get away, he shot him again.”

Defense attorney Aaron Nelson suggested that Hampton, Christiansen and Robinson all had reasons to lie about Johnson being the killer. Most significant, he argued, testimony leading to the successful prosecution of Johnson could improve their legal situations.

Robinson was convicted by a Douglas County jury of six drug charges last August and is serving a six-year sentence. However, he has filed an appeal and said he is hoping for some kind of post-conviction consideration in exchange for his testimony.

Hampton received a plea deal, stipulating that he would testify at the trial. In exchange, he pleaded guilty to just three of eight felony drug charges he faces. Christiansen, who faces three felony drug charges, has pleaded not guilty and asserted her innocence during testimony.

During cross-examination, Nelson badgered Christiansen about violations of her supervised release. She acknowledged that she had visited or spoken on the phone with Hampton more than 500 times while he has been in jail during the past two years. The no-contact condition was ordered by Judge Kelly Thimm, who is also presiding over the murder trial.

Nelson noted that Christiansen was admitting that she committed more than 500 counts of felony bail jumping, each punishable by up to six years in prison. She agreed it was true, but she said she only did it because she wanted to maintain a relationship for the benefit of their two young children.

The defense attorney suggested that during the contacts, Christiansen could have been collaborating on a story to pin Cooper’s killing on Johnson. He played a video clip of a video call, during which Christiansen showed Hampton a story about Johnson’s release from jail on a $1 million signature bond.

Later in the day, Blank called Johnson’s ex-girlfriend, Ebony Garrett, to the stand. Garrett was uncooperative with the district attorney’s questions, simply answering “no” to nearly every question he asked. She downplayed the seriousness of the robbery at their apartment, claimed not to know any of the numerous names Blank read off and couldn’t point out simple geographical points around where she lived.

When asked about the murder, she said she only heard about it from police later. She provided an alibi for Johnson the day before and day of the shooting.

“I spent the night with him,” she testified. “He was there in the morning.”

Blank had told jurors during opening statements on Monday that he expected Garrett, who has an 8-month-old child with Johnson, would be uncooperative during testimony.

Testimony will continue Thursday, with the trial scheduled to run through Friday.

Advertisement
Tom Olsen
(218) 723-5333
Advertisement
Advertisement
randomness