FLORENCE — A witness in the murder trial of Alfred Shawn Johnson, 42, testified Tuesday he saw the defendant and his brother beating Keith Barnett outside a bar just across the Alabama-Tennessee line on the night Barnett was found unconscious on Alabama 17 in Lauderdale County.
Barnett, 22, was found lying on the road July 29, 2000, and never regained consciousness. He died Sept. 21, 2000.
Robert Gillespie testified he saw Barnett along with Shawn and Shannon Ray Johnson, 43, inside Little Sands bar earlier in the night. Later that evening, Gillespie and a woman he was with were leaving the bar because his girlfriend was sick.
He testified he put her in his vehicle and went to an area outside behind the bar to use the bathroom when he noticed an altercation involving the Johnson brothers and Barnett.
“Keith was hollering for someone to help him,” Gillespie said, during questioning by Lauderdale Assistant District Attorney Angie Hamilton.
Gillespie testified Barnett was on his knees while Shannon Johnson hit him with what looked like a T-ball bat and Shawn Johnson kicked him. The brothers noticed Gillespie and asked if he wanted to be next, so Gillespie went back to his vehicle.
He saw the brothers carry Barnett to their pickup, Gillespie testified.
Gillespie said he drove across the state line to a convenience store, where he called his grandfather, told him what he saw and that the Johnsons were involved. He noticed the brothers were within his sight in their vehicle while he was making the call. The brothers then drove back north on Alabama 17.
During afternoon testimony, Teresa Britnell said she stayed at a house in the Southgate community near the bar the night of the incident. The next morning, she woke up and saw the Johnson brothers outside with a small fire and a truck. They cleaned the truck, then removed their clothes and threw them in the fire. They also placed a baseball bat in the fire.
The brothers removed the bat and placed it in a bucket that was in the truck’s bed. They also placed ashes from the fire, concrete and water in the bucket and left, Britnell said. During cross-examination, she admitted she had been taking drugs late the previous night.
During testimony earlier in the day, Jessie Rickard said he saw Barnett unconscious on Alabama 17, near the Tennessee line.
Rickard said he was at Little Sands that night and left about 1-1:30 a.m. He said he drove south and saw what looked like a body just after crossing the state line. The head was on the white line alongside the road and feet were pointed toward the road.
Rickard said the person was unconscious and looked like he had been beaten. He said he knew Barnett but didn’t recognize him because of the condition of his face.
After Rickard called 911, he flagged down a passing friend and had him block traffic from Tennessee so nobody would run over Barnett, according to testimony.
There is a hill on the highway at the state line, and it would have been difficult for a vehicle to avoid striking Barnett where he was placed, Rickard testified.
Defense attorney Dustin McCown, who along with Jamy Poss is representing Shawn Johnson, said during opening statements there are a lot of “unanswered questions,” and forensics officials found no evidence in the brothers’ truck. There also was no blood found outside Little Sands, McCown said.
During cross-examination, Gillespie said he never made the connection between Barnett’s death and the incident until 2011, when he was in the Lauderdale County Detention Center on traffic-related offenses and noticed Shawn Johnson was there. That’s when he talked with authorities about what happened.
Poss asked Gillespie the name of the woman who was in the vehicle with Gillespie on the night of the incident. He responded that he brought the girl with him from Memphis, where he lived at the time, but can’t remember her name.
Gillespie also said he had served time for a felony theft-related conviction and wanted to be pardoned for that so his record would be cleared, but that had nothing to do with his decision to come forward. He never received a pardon or anything else from prosecutors in exchange for his testimony, he said.
Poss also questioned whether Gillespie could see what was happening in the dark from a distance that Gillespie testified was about 50 feet that night.
Dr. Wesley Marchman testified he treated Barnett at Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence. He said Barnett’s injuries were confined to the head and neck, with the exception of a laceration of a forearm.
Marchman said it would be unusual to have injuries confined to that region if the victim were hit by a vehicle. During cross-examination, he said the injuries also are not consistent with being kicked in the body. In addition, Barnett’s blood-alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit, and he tested positive for ingredients in marijuana.
Robbie Talcott, who is a Florence police sergeant, testified he was at the club that night with some family and friends. While driving home, Talcott noticed about a half-dozen people gathered on the road where Barnett was lying. He said Barnett looked like he had been “placed” on the road, with his head on the white line alongside the road and feet pointing directly toward the double yellow lines in the middle of the road. Talcott also said he saw no indication of paint transfer, broken headlights or other signs that Rickard’s vehicle had hit Barnett.
Testimony continues today, and prosecutors expect Shannon Johnson to take the stand and testify against his brother, according to District Attorney Chris Connolly.
Shawn and Shannon Johnson were arrested in May 2011, almost 10 years after Barnett died.
Shannon Johnson, who also was charged with murder at the time of his arrest, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last year and agreed to testify against his brother. Shannon Johnson received a 20-year prison sentence, the maximum penalty for manslaughter.
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.
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