Two men working through the same Erie employment agency briefly crossed paths at the employment business on Sept. 22, an Erie police detective testified Friday.
One of the men, Jeffery L. Johnson, then took a bus downtown, while the other man, Defonta LD Butler, drove an older model red Ford Escape that sometimes followed the bus on its way to the city north, Detective Benjamin Gadsby said.
Surveillance video would show the Ford parking in the first block of East 17th Street, then moving in front of four other parked cars as Johnson walked east after leaving a nearby business, Gadsby said. As Johnson approached the parked vehicle, looking at his phone, a man got out of the Ford and opened fire on Johnson, he said.
Prosecutors on Friday used Gadsby’s testimony and video clips, including one that captured the shooting, to outline their case against Butler, 30, charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault and other crimes in the shooting death of Johnson, 40. years, one of the 13 homicide victims. in the city so far this year. Erie 2nd District District Judge Ed Wilson took Butler to trial on all charges after Friday’s preliminary hearing.
Police accuse Butler of shooting Johnson to death in what Deputy Prosecutor Steven Liboski called an ambush and premeditated murder at the end of Friday’s testimony. Officers responded to the area of East 17th and French streets after the city’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection system alerted them late in the morning on September 22. They recovered eight spent bullet casings in the street, Gadsby testified.
Police also located a variety of video clips from surveillance cameras in the area that captured the shooting, as well as Johnson and Butler’s movements before and after the shooting.
Gadsby testified that the Ford Escape, which had two unique stickers, was later located in another part of town in front of a residence where Butler lives. Police found a 9mm handgun in the basement of the residence and tests matched the weapon to recovered casings and a bullet recovered from Johnson’s body, the detective said.
Gadsby said under cross-examination by Butler’s attorney, Bruce Sandmeyer, that the Ford Escape is owned by Butler’s mother and that she told police she knew Butler had the vehicle on the day of the shooting.
The detective also told Sandmeyer that the meeting between Butler and Johnson at the employment agency was brief. Employees detectives spoke to said there was no physical altercation or obvious disagreement between the two men while they were at the business, Gadsby said.
Further: Alleged drive-by shooting now a homicide investigation for Erie police after death of 40-year-old man
The detective further noted during Sandmeyer’s questioning that Butler and Johnson were involved in a past incident. That incident was not detailed at Friday’s hearing. But Erie police accused Johnson of shooting Butler during a confrontation in the city in September 2015.
The initial set of charges police brought against Johnson in that shooting were dismissed in January 2016 when Butler testified at a hearing that he did not know who shot him and a witness who originally said he saw Johnson shooting testified that he never saw anything. Police refiled charges several days later and Johnson was brought to court based on the witness’ 911 call and videotaped statement to police after the shooting.
Johnson pleaded guilty in January 2017 to aggravated assault and carrying a firearm without a license and was sentenced in March 2017 to serve 30 months to five years in prison, according to court records and other information.