Samuel Edwards was shot dead by a rival drug dealer for invading his territory, the defendant’s cousin testified before a jury Tuesday.
Tavaris “40” Johnson, 29, is standing trial for a second-degree murder with a firearm charge in Edwards’ death in 2014. His cousin, Sean Butler, took the stand for the prosecution Tuesday afternoon, detailing what Johnson said to him following the fatal shooting of Edwards, known as “Sam” to many in Oneco.
“He told me he killed Sam,” Butler said.
Butler went to say his cousin told him that Edwards had invaded his and another drug dealer’s territory. But Butler also testified that Johnson said he— not another unidentified dealer — had been the one to fire the gun.
When questioned on his own motives for testifying, Butler, who admitted to being a three-time convicted felon currently in federal custody, said he had not been promised anything.
“I just felt it was right thing to do,” Butler told defense attorney John Baez.
At about 6:30 a.m. June 23, 2014, deputies responded to a reported burglary in progress in the the 5800 block of 11th Street East in Bradenton. When they arrived, deputies found a man who claimed he had been shot.
As he was being transported to a hospital for a drug-related issue because paramedics could not find any gunshot wounds, the man said there had been someone else in the car who had been shot.
Deputies searched the area and found Edwards, 29, inside a silver Chevrolet Impala with gunshot wounds to his head, neck and left hand.
Johnson was not initially charged with Edwards’ death, a fact Baez advised the jury to consider during trial testimony. At the time of his arrest on a murder charge, Johnson had been in custody at the Manatee County jail since Sept. 1, 2015, on unrelated weapons charges.
Three female and four male jurors, including an alternate, paid close attention as sheriff’s office crime scene manager Rich Talbot and crime scene technician Amanda Collon demonstrated through photos taken at the scene where the Impala Edwards was found in was located and where broken glass, blood splatter, drugs and money were found inside the car.
Johnson sat in the courtroom with a faded haircut, clean-shaven and wearing a dress shirt and tie. A few people sat quietly behind him in the courtroom, while the victim’s mother sat on the other side.
Outside the courthouse, Ethel Edwards said her son was a great person who had just finished school to become a barber in the days before he was killed. He would cut hair around the neighborhood, she added, and although she knew he would disappear sometimes, she had no idea it was to sell drugs.
But that still didn’t make it right that her son was executed, Ethel Edwards added.
During a morning recess, an uncooperative witness, Melinda Corona, was brought into the courtroom by lead homicide Detective Darryl Davis. Circuit Judge Deno Economou ordered Corona to appear in court at 10 a.m. Wednesday as the woman shook her head no. Economou reminded her she was under subpoena and that if she did not appear, he would have her arrested.
Alshay Whitty, also seemed unhappy or fearful about being forced to testify. When she first took the stand, Whitty said she couldn’t remember anything about the time surrounding the fatal shooting because she was high. But Assistant State Attorney Art Brown reminded her of the interview during which she admitted Johnson was present at the home across the street before the shooting, and she confirmed his recollection.
Despite breaking down in sobs, Whitty said Johnson had been in the house across the street, and he left shortly before she heard shots fired. She also reluctantly admitted to have hidden guns for others before.
The gun used to kill Edwards has not been recovered.
Corona was also told she needed to be at the State Attorney’s Office at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Bradenton police homicide Detective James Curulla also briefly took the stand and testified how Johnson was found in the area of the slaying by detectives on that same morning.
The jury will return at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, and testimony is expected to resume and conclude later that afternoon.