Two gang members were convicted of first-degree murder Monday for the killing of a 19-year-old mentally disabled man who prosecutors said was gunned down near a South Los Angeles car wash because he was wearing red shoes.
The eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated less than three hours before reaching guilty verdicts for Kanasho Johns, 29, and Kevin Deon Johnson, 26, in the May 29, 2015, killing of Tavin Price.
Johns, the gunman, was additionally convicted of felony possession of a firearm, and jurors also found true gang and gun allegations.
Both men are expected to be sentenced to 50 years to life in state prison on Nov. 30. A third man, Dwight Kevin Smith, 31, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Price’s death and is set to be sentenced after Johns and Johnson.
Deputy District Attorney Bobby Zoumberakis told jurors that Price “was not allowed to wear red shoes in that gang neighborhood.”
“Tavin Price was murdered because of gang pride, because the gang pride was more important than Tavin Price’s life,” the prosecutor said in his opening statement.
Outside the courtroom following the verdict, Zoumberakis said, “It happened because young minority men are targets of gang members in these types of neighborhoods.”
The prosecutor said the case was solved because “the community stood together,” but cautioned that “until there are more community and policing efforts to stop them,” gangs will continue to commit similar crimes.
Price’s mother, Jennifer Rivers, tearfully embraced and thanked police officers involved in the case as they stood outside the courtroom. Rivers said “77th (Street station detectives) worked hard” to solve the crime.
Other family members and friends dressed in red shoes and jackets and donned red T-shirts with the word “justice” on the front and a large photo of Rivers planting a kiss on her son’s forehead as he lay in his coffin on the back.
Rivers told reporters that she felt “some kind of justice … I really wanted the death penalty for them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply.”
Asked what she thought of Johns leaving the courtroom with a smile on his face, Price’s mother said, “To me, he has no remorse. He just took my son’s life for nothing. He feels like he got brownie points.”
But one of Price’s sisters said she’s confident that the killers will die before their sentence runs out, while suffering over the memory of what they had done.
“I know you reap what you sow,” Nisha Canson said, recalling Smith saying that he is haunted by the killing day and night.
Both the prosecution and defense agreed Smith confronted Price in a smoke shop near the car wash in the 3300 block of West Florence Avenue, while Johnson stood nearby. The 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 told the jury.
He said an eyewitness who knew Johns identified him as the shooter, and Johns fled to Texas in an effort 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.
Following the verdict, both defense attorneys said they would file motions for a new trial and Leftwich said Johnson “would maintain his innocence.”
John’s attorney, Bill Jacobson, declined to comment further.
Rivers said she would attend the sentencing hearing to tell Johns and Johnson how she suffers from the loss of her son. But for now, she has a measure of peace.
“I’m sure (Tavin’s) smiling up there with God, saying `justice is done.”‘
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–City News Service