A 19-year-old mentally disabled man wearing a red T- shirt and red shoes was gunned down near a South Los Angeles car wash over nothing more than “gang pride,” a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
“Tavin Price was not allowed to wear red shoes in that gang neighborhood,” Deputy District Attorney Bobby Zoumberakis said in his opening statement in the trial of Kanasho Johns and Kevin Deon Johnson.
“Tavin Price was murdered because of gang pride, because the gang pride was more important than Tavin Price’s life,” the prosecutor told the eight- man, four-woman jury.
Johns, 29, and Johnson, 26, are both charged with Price’s May 29, 2015, murder, with Johns named as the alleged shooter. Both are also facing a gang allegation and have prior felony convictions.
A third man, Dwight Kevin Smith, 31, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Price’s death and is set to be sentenced in October. The prosecution said he may testify during the trial of his co-defendants.
Both the prosecution and defense agree Smith confronted Price in a smoke shop near the car wash in the 3300 block of West Florence Avenue, while Johnson stood nearby. That conversation and the shooting itself were caught on surveillance video, though there was no audio recording.
Smith identified himself as a gang member and said to Price, “Why are you wearing all that red? Where are you from?” according to Johnson’s attorney, Curt Leftwich.
“I don’t bang,” Price replied, to which Smith retorted, “Come out of those shoes,” according to Leftwich.
Both sides also told jurors that Hilary Wade, who is the mother of Price’s nephew and was in the store with him, told Smith that the young man wasn’t a “gangbanger” and explained that he was “slow.”
A short while later, Price was standing by his mother’s car when a gunman fired four rounds at “this 19-year-old boy who did nothing wrong and ended him” with “no hesitation,” Zoumberakis said.
He told jurors that the prosecution’s “overwhelming evidence” includes an eyewitness to the shooting who knew Johns and will testify that he was the shooter, and proof that Johns fled to Texas to avoid prosecution.
For his part, Johnson left the car wash, picked up Johns and drove him to the scene of the shooting, according to Zoumberakis.
Johnson’s attorney told the jury that the “critical time frame” amounts to the 20 minutes between 10:45 and 11:05 that morning.
The defense will “freeze frame those 20 minutes so that frame-by-frame, you can see exactly what happened here and what did not happen here,” Leftwich said.
Johnson “had nothing to do with the confrontation that took place between Dwight Smith and Tavin Price,” Leftwich said.
Johnson picked up Smith that morning because Smith knew the owner of an auto body shop and Johnson wanted to fix some damage to the Lexus he was driving, according to Leftwich.
When the pair stopped for cigarettes, “it’s all Dwight Smith,” the defense attorney said, calling him “the bad dude in this case.”
Leftwich said he “can’t wait” for the chance to cross-examine Smith, who “got a sweetheart deal” of 12 years in exchange for agreeing to testify.
Johns’ attorney, Bill Jacobson, said the eyewitness mentioned by the prosecution would testify only that “she knows my client and she saw him walking in the area. That’s it … the big identification.”
“It seems to me it lacks a little bit in terms of weight” and the evidence “just simply doesn’t add up to ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,”‘ Jacobson told jurors.
Price’s mother, Jennifer Rivers, was the prosecution’s first witness, testifying that he “got hit by a car when he was 3 years old and he got diagnosed with brain damage.”
Her son was in a coma and “they said he would never walk again,” but “God was good,” she said of his recovery.
However, “he was special, he had special needs,” Rivers said, telling jurors that sometimes her son didn’t recognize members of his family.
When he returned to the car from the smoke shop, he was telling her about the confrontation over his red Chuck Taylors when “the next thing … bam, bam,” Rivers said.
“The cigarette dropped out of (Tavin’s) mouth … his eyes got big and he gasped for air,” Rivers said, breaking into tears while watching video of the shooting from the witness box.
She tried to lay him down in the car’s back seat and then grabbed a knife and ran after the shooter, she testified. Tavin tried to follow and when he collapsed, his mother returned.
Rivers held his head as her son asked, “Mommy, am I gonna be alright? I’m not gonna die, am I?,” she said.
She said paramedics wouldn’t let her ride with her son to California Hospital Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.
“My son’s never been affiliated with any gang in his life,” Rivers said. “I kept him under me to protect him from people like them.”
Rivers testified that she had been threatened about being a “snitch” immediately after the shooting and again upon leaving court following an earlier hearing. In the second incident, she said three women threatened to beat and kill her on behalf of the gang.
“I’ll be a snitch for the rest of my life if that’s what it takes,” Rivers testified.
–City News Service