Man killed for being 'snitch,' attorney says

Raheem Johnson in Clay County Circuit Court on Wednesday
Staff Writer

A Clay county man was gunned down in his best friend's living room because the suspects thought he was "snitching" on their drug dealings, a Clay County Circuit Court jury was told Wednesday.

In opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Scott Rogillio told the nine-woman, four-man jury that 23-year-old Raheem Johnson wasn't the actual shooter who killed 38-year-old James "Fluffy" White inside a mobile home on May 15, 2015. But he was the person who drove the shooter to the home on Dixie Road in the Mantee section of western Clay County,  and knew what was going to happen.

In fact, Raheem tried to get his father, who was with White, out of the way before Roderick Johnson pulled the trigger, the prosecutor said, laying out his case in opening arguments.

"They had a meeting. Roderick Johnson said we need to 'off' him or 'take him out' because he was ratting them out for drug dealing," Rogillio told the jury.

"He delivered the killer to them," he continued referring to Raheem Johnson, noting his actions make him just as responsible for the murder.

In her opening arguments, Johnson's attorney, public defender Kristen Williams didn't address the facts but told the jury that at the end of the trial, it would "be clear" the state had not proven its case.

If convicted of murder, Johnson faces life in prison but he would be eligible for parole after serving part of the sentence.

A group of four to six friends spent much of the day at Brad Reed's trailer, smoking crack cocaine and "partying," Reed testified. The group included Kemp Watkins, who is Raheem Johnson's father. Raheem Johnson had delivered drugs there at about 4 p.m. that day.

That night, while Reed and three others were in the trailer's back bedroom and White and Watkins sat in the living room, Reed testified he heard a car drive up and then heard Raheem Johnson's voice saying, "Come on, let's get out of here."  to his dad.

Moments later shots rang out.

"I heard Fluffy screaming, he was calling my name as he was coming down the hallway," Reed testified as more than 20 members of White's family and a half dozen of Johnson's listened.

"I hid behind the door in the bathroom. I was scared, I didn't do nothing. He dropped right in front of the bathroom," continued Reed, who is Raheem Johnson's uncle.

"I jumped over him and ran out the back door," he said.

He hid the woods until the other people came out. They all ran to Reed's mother's house just a few yards away and woke her to call 911.

The jury also heard a compelling recording of Essie Reed's 911 call. She teared up listening to her words and remembering the night.

Under cross-examination by Johnson's attorney, Reed admitted to being high but said he had no doubt about whose voice he heard.

"No mam, I'm not confused," he responded, admitting he originally told investigators he wasn't in the trailer because he was "scared about the drugs and paraphernalia" in it.

At the start of the case Wednesday, Judge Jim Kitchens suggested some of White's relatives either take off or cover up T-shirts they were wearing that paid tribute to their fallen relative.

"I understand you loved your son, your brother, your family member. And I'm not trying to embarrass anyone, I'm just letting you know that can be an issue on appeal," Kitchens told the family, referring to the impression the T-shirts could make on the jury seated just a few feet away.

Rogillio, speaking to the family privately, told them to hide them, which they did before the trial began.

Williams also suggested at another point she planned to raise doubts about her client's videotaped statement in which he told investigators about driving to the house with Roderick Johnson and 24-year-old Casey Watkins, both of whom face murder trials at later dates.

Raheem Johnson claims his confession was coerced and that he was told something to the effect of, "You've got to stop BSing us or you are going down for this," Williams said.

"The detectives may not feel like it was a threat, but my concern is he did feel threatened to tell them something," Williams said, noting her client was just 20 years old at the time.

Kitchens previously ruled his statement could be used in court and reiterated that Wednesday.

Attorneys for Roderick Johnson and White are in the courtroom watching the trial, which is expected to end Friday.