A Dyer County Circuit Court jury Thursday found Brian L. Woods guilty of second-degree murder in the Feb. 2001 shooting death of Terrence Lamar "Mar-Mar" Johnson. The nine-man, three-woman jury deliberated more than three hours before reaching the verdict.
Woods, 21, of the 1000 block of Custer Avenue, was charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the slaying of Johnson on Feb. 12, 2001, in the Bruce community. Judge Lee Moore set sentencing for Woods for 1 p.m. on May 28. Woods could be sentenced to 15-25 years in prison on the Class A felony conviction. District Attorney General Phil Bivens said the judge is required to start at the mid-point (20 years) of the range and consider mitigating factors in lowering the sentence and aggravating factors in raising it.
The bulk of the trial occurred Wednesday and Thursday morning. The prosecution and defense stipulated that they would accept a transcript of a statement given police by Darren Taylor, who witnessed a shooting in which Woods was hit, but not wounded, early on the evening of Johnson's killing. Taylor, currently in prison after pleading guilty to burglary and theft charges, was present at the courthouse, but the defense chose not to call him as a witness and rely on the transcript.
In his statement Taylor told Dyersburg police investigator Jim Joyner that he witnessed a confrontation between Johnson, Devon "Dee-Dee" Wiggins and Woods about 7 p.m. on Feb. 12. "Both of 'em jumped out of the car and was chasing Brian Woods, and they stopped, and Mar-Mar was standing behind Dee-Dee," the transcript quotes Taylor as saying. "They both pointed a gun at Brian, but Dee-Dee the only one that was shooting." That confrontation took place on Wilson Circle in West Dyersburg.
Taylor said Woods and his co-defendant, Kelvin DeWayne Taylor, 31, of the 200 block of Jordan Avenue, later showed up on Wilson Circle with guns and said "they were fixing to kill those -------." Taylor's statement also says he was present on Price Street in East Dyersburg when Johnson was shot by Woods, using a Chinese-made SKS semi-automatic assault rifle. Taylor's statement states that "Mar-Mar took the bullet for Dee-Dee ... he got the wrong person."
Bivens called one rebuttal witness Thursday morning, a woman who said she had seen Woods beating Wiggins' girlfriend. Bivens claimed that Woods' treatment of the girlfriend led to bad blood between Woods and Wiggins.
But Tocarra Taylor, the mother of Woods' daughter, testified in rebuttal for the defense that the beating of Wiggins' girlfriend took place after she tried to run Woods down with an automobile in which Johnson and Wiggins were passengers. Woods has admitted shooting Johnson, saying he was angered by the attempt to shoot him and that he acted in self-defense because he thought Johnson had fired at him on Price Street. A pistol found near Johnson's body was fully loaded and the safety was engaged, Joyner testified Wednesday. He said he found no evidence that Johnson had fired at Woods.
Woods' attorney, Assistant District Public Defender Jimmy Lanier, argued in his closing argument that Woods was provoked into killing Johnson. "He wasn't out hunting Mar-Mar," Lanier said. "He wasn't out looking for trouble. Trouble came to him. "It had been three or four hours, but how long does it take to get over the scare of being shot?"
Lanier asked the jurors to consider finding Woods guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a notch down from second-degree murder and two steps down from first-degree murder. Bivens asked the jurors, in his closing argument, to find Woods guilt of first-degree murder.
"There wasn't adequate provocation here," he said. "He had provocation to kill Devon Wiggins, but he killed Lamar Johnson. "He killed the wrong man." Bivens noted that Woods had sworn out a warrant against Wiggins for shooting him, but never mentioned Johnson to police.
Wiggins has pleaded guilty to shooting Woods and been sentenced. Bivens urged the jurors to punish Woods to prevent vigilantism. "Don't allow individuals to take the law into their own hands," he said. "Send a message that the proper way to deal with assaults is to go to the police and let them handle it."
Once the verdict was in Bivens said he believes the jury should not have split the difference between prosecution and defense requests, but found Woods guilty of first-degree murder. "It was a case of him killing the wrong person," Bivens said. "If he'd just have let the police do their jobs he wouldn't be convicted today, but I think he's guilty of first-degree murder."
Woods sat impassively throughout the two days of the trial. A group of Johnson's friends and family attended all of the trial and were restrained in their reaction to the verdict.