The first of three men linked to a Pine Bluff murder in January made his initial court appearance Friday and will be held without bond pending the filing of formal charges. Jefferson County District Judge Kim Bridgforth ruled prosecutors have probable cause to charge Johnnie Donson, 18, with capital murder. Donson, who turned 18 in February, was brought to the Pine Bluff Police Department’s Detective Office from the juvenile detention center, where he had been held after his arrest on Thursday. Johnnie Donson, Joshua Donson, 20, and Dantevonne Tatum, 16, are accused of involvement in the shooting death of Marcus Washington, 27, whose body was found in early January in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that was backed into the driveway of a house at 1806 W. 29th Avenue. Washington was pronounced dead at the scene from an apparent gunshot wound to the throat.
Several shell casings (nine-millimeter and .40-caliber) were located throughout the yard and down the street from the 29th Avenue address. According to a probable cause affidavit from Pine Bluff Police Detective Steven Rucker, Joshua Donson and Tatum are in custody in the Los Angeles County, California, Jail pending charges of carjacking and other gang-related charges. Jefferson County prosecutors on Thursday filed formal charges of capital murder against the two.
Rucker, who was the lead investigator on the case, reported that he spoke to a witness who said she saw a white Chevrolet Impala with its lights off driving slowly on West 29th Avenue, along with a dark-colored vehicle behind it, then heard several gunshots and hid in her house until the shooting was over. Two more witnesses who said they were in the car with Washington said they saw a white Chevrolet Impala and a dark-colored car driving approaching them east on 29th Avenue. They said that as the dark-colored car drove closer, they saw several shots coming from it, then returned fire. Another witness down the street said he heard gunfire, looked out the window and saw a white Chevrolet Impala and a dark-colored vehicle, which resembled a Honda Civic, parked in the road in front of his house. He said he saw several males exit the cars and run back toward the victims, shooting several times, then run back to their cars and drive east on 29th Avenue.
Rucker reported that he received information that Washington had been at the “Circle N” Exxon station at 28th Avenue and Holly Street prior to the shooting, and there was video of him and a white Chevrolet Impala in the parking lot. That video showed a dark gray Ford Focus with a license plate on the front and a sunroof enter the parking lot. The video also showed Joshua Donson and Tatum exit the vehicle, enter the store, then leave. A few minutes later, a white Chevrolet Impala driven by Johnnie Donson entered the parking lot, and Johnnie Donson entered the store, came back out, then went back in two more times before getting back in his vehicle and appearing to duck down.
Nine minutes later, Washington, who was also driving a white Chevrolet Impala, pulled into the parking lot two pumps away from Johnnie Donson. Washington and two other men got out of the vehicle and entered the store. After Johnnie Donson drove away, the dark gray Focus returned to the store, then circled Washington’s car before parking beside it. Washington then left, with the Focus following in pursuit. Rucker reported that police also obtained video from Hazel’s Bottle Shop at the intersection of West 29th Avenue and Hazel Street, on which several shots can be heard, along with two vehicles driving at a high rate of speed. One of the vehicles appeared to be a white Chevrolet Impala; the other a dark-colored passenger car. Both were driving east on 29th Avenue past Hazel Street, then continued east.
Two days after the shooting, police searched the area that the vehicles were seen traveling to, and officers located a dark gray Focus on the parking lot of the Avalon Apartments at 3204 Old Warren Road. There were what appeared to be two bullet holes in the driver’s side roof of the vehicle approximately two feet from the driver’s door, along with a silver nine-millimeter shell casing that matched the same make and caliber as the shell casings found at the scene.
The license plate on the car was determined to be fictitious and was registered to a passenger truck from Tulsa, Oklahoma. It had expired in 2013. The vehicle was locked, and officers were not able to run the vehicle identification number because it was obscured by a flier. Residents of the apartment complex were then contacted, and all said the vehicle did not belong to them. Witnesses were shown photos of the Ford Focus and told police the vehicle “looked exactly like the vehicle that was involved in the murder of Washington.”
The Ford was towed to the police department’s crime scene office, where a search warrant was obtained and a search of the car was conducted. Inside, police found another spent shell casing, along with a Walmart sales receipt showing the purchase of nine-millimeter ammunition on Jan. 6. Security video from Walmart showed Joshua Donson, Tatum and another person enter the store, where they met with three other individuals, then went to the sporting goods section and bought ammunition before leaving. Rucker reported that he made contact with Tatum on Jan. 12, and Tatum said the car belonged to a man he knew only as DJ from Memphis. He said he did not know the car was stolen and was released at that time, pending further investigation. A BOLO (be on the lookout) was then issued for Joshua Donson.
The case stayed quiet until March 12, when Rucker was contacted by Detective Ryan Thompson with the Culver City, California, Police Department, who reported that Joshua Donson and Tatum were in custody on charges there. Joshua Donson had a picture of the BOLO on his cell phone. Thompson also reported that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office had pending charges on Tatum and Joshua Donson. Rucker flew to Los Angeles on Jan. 27, where he interviewed Joshua Donson and Tatum at the Los Angeles County Jail. Joshua Donson said the Ford Focus was a rental that a friend had obtained, adding that he and Tatum were in the car but had left and gone home before the homicide and were with their girlfriends. He then asked for an attorney.
Tatum admitted driving the Ford Focus on the night of the homicide with Joshua Donson and another male he knew only as DJ. He said DJ was in the back seat when they pulled next to Washington’s car and was lying down so he could not be seen. Tatum said DJ had gotten into an argument with Washington and his friends at PJ’s nightclub a few nights earlier and said they did follow Washington when he drove off, but Washington had gotten beside them and started swerving at them before taking a shot at their vehicle on West 28th Avenue.
He also said that Johnnie Donson was driving a white Chevrolet Impala and met up with them. He said they passed Washington on 29th Avenue. Tatum said Washington and his friends got out of their car and started shooting at them, so they stopped their cars down the street and “DJ” got out of the car and shot back. Tatum said he did not shoot back. Tatum and Joshua Donson were placed in the same cell in Los Angeles, and Rucker reported their conversations were recorded by guards at the jail. In the recording, Tatum tells Joshua Donson, “They have video of us on 29th Avenue driving that car. They also have video of Johnnie driving that white car with his lights off.”
Tatum went on to tell Joshua Donson he “blamed it on DJ.” Tatum then asked Joshua Donson if they had found the guns, to which Donson replied “No.”Rucker reported that the two then said that “If they don’t have the guns, they don’t have [expletive].”
Tatum repeated his statement that police have video of them driving the car without lights and Johnnie Donson driving the car without lights.
“Man, you just admitted to accessory to murder,” Joshua Donson tells Tatum.