The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected claims by a Pine Bluff now 20-year-old man that a Capital Murder against him should have been transferred to juvenile court rather than adult court.
Attorneys for Johnnie Donson said in the court filing that Donson was 17 years old when he was accused of shooting Marcus Washington on Jan. 4, 2017. Donson and two other men, his brother, Joshua Donson, then 20, and Dantaevonne Tatum, then 16 were identified as suspects in the death of Washington. 27, whose body was found in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that was backed into a driveway at 1806 W. 29th Ave. Washington was found dead at the scene.
Earlier this year, those attorney filed a motion to transfer the case to Juvenile Court and for extended juvenile jurisdiction (E.J.J.) and when that was turned down, appealed the decision. The attorneys did not appeal the E.J.J. designation because that would not have been possible unless the case was already in juvenile court or was transferred there.
Johnnie Donson was arrested in April in Pine Bluff and has been in police custody since then. Joshua Donson and Tatum were arrested in March 2017 in Los Angeles on charges of carjacking and other gang related offenses. Joshua Donson was brought back to Jefferson County a couple of months ago while Tatum remains in custody in California.
At a hearing on transferring the case to Juvenile Court, Detective Steve Rucker, who was the lead detective in the case testified that he obtained surveillance video from a convenience store which showed that Johnnie Donson, driving a white Chevrolet Impala pulled into the station and while he was pumping gas, Washington also pulled into the station and pumped gas into his vehicle. When Washington went into the business, Johnnie Donson pulled away. Joshua Donson and Tatum arrived in a Ford Focus, circled Washington’s vehicle and parked, and when Washingt0n drove off, so did the Ford.
Video footage was also obtained from a nearby liquor store and Rucker testified that in the video, numerous shots can be heard, and the video showed Johnnie Donson’s white Impala being driven away from the scene of the shooting with the lights off, followed by the Ford Focus.
Following testimony from witnesses for both side, Circuit Judge Alex Guynn, who heard the case, summarized the testimony and in written findings, determined that:
* Capital murder is a serious offense as it is a Class Y felony and protection of society requires that this charge be in the Criminal (adult) Division of Circuit Court.
* The court finds that the offense was committed in an aggressive, violent and willful manner.
* The court finds that the offense was against a person but not property. The court notes that the actions (led) to the loss of life of one person.
* The court finds the Defendant culpable.
* The court finds that there are not suitable juvenile programs and facilities to rehabilitate the juvenile prior to his 21st birthday.
* The court finds the offense was part of a group activity.
Under Arkansas law, a prosecuting attorney has the discretion to charge a juvenile 16 years of age or older as an adult if the juvenile had committed an act that would result in felony charges if it were committed by an adult.
Either side may request a hearing on transferring the case and the judge hearing the case is required to consider a number of factors such as those listed above, as well as others, and make written findings.
In his appeal, Donson’s attorneys challenged Guynn’s summation that there was insufficient evidence presented to show that Donson’s case must be tried in adult court to protect society.
Writing for the court of appeals, Judge Larry D. Vaught said the state supreme court had already rejected that argument in a previous ruling. The high court said that a juvenile charged with capital murder may be tried as an adult solely because of the serious and violent nature of the offense despite the lack of evidence that society needed to be protected.
Attorneys for Donson also contended that there was insufficient evidence to show, as Guynn wrote, that Donson was culpable but in his written opinion Vaught said there was evidence that Donson planned and participated in the shooting, citing testimony from another prisoner who said that Donson admitted that he and his friends followed Washington. that the shooting was retaliatory and that he (Donson) participated in it.
Donson also challenged Guynn’s ruling that there were no suitable juvenile programs or facilities to rehabilitate him before his 21st birthday, citing testimony from the juvenile ombudsman division of the Public Defender’s Office who mentioned programs like job corps or teen challenge. She also testified that she was not sure Donson could get into those programs and that there was limited time for him to be rehabilitated, even if he could get into the programs.
“That the court did not weigh one factor the way (Donson) wanted it weighed does not make the court’s decision clearly erroneous not does it necessitate reversal,” Vaught said in the ruling.