MANATEE — Murder charges against a man accused of killing a 19-year-old woman and her unborn child during a home invasion last year have been dropped after a judge ruled Friday that Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies illegally took his DNA from his bloodied clothes at Manatee Memorial Hospital.
Prosecutors, however, said they plan to re-file murder charges once they are able to legally obtain Everrick Houston’s DNA.
Crystal Johnson, 19, who was six months pregnant, was shot and killed when two to three men wearing black masks stormed her apartment at 1:20 a.m. on July 11, 2009. A gunfight ensued between Johnson’s boyfriend, Lawrence Funsch, and the gunmen. He wounded Houston, as well as Houston’s accomplice, 22-year-old Gregory Kennon, according to reports.
Houston, 29, was picked up about a half mile from the DeSoto Village Apartments and taken to the hospital where he told authorities a man had shot him.
Investigators testified in court that they thought Houston was a shooting victim in an unrelated case.
His clothes were taken from the hospital that night, and his blood was discovered at the apartments the following day.
“There is no dispute that Mr. Houston’s clothing was illegally seized at the hospital; the State has conceded as much,” writes Circuit Court Judge Diana Moreland in a order issued Friday.
As a result, the State Attorney’s Office has dropped two first-degree murder charges against Houston since the DNA evidence was suppressed in the case.
Susan Moore, Johnson’s mother, had emotions of anger and sadness coursing through her after she learned the news.
“I understand (detectives) did wrong when they grabbed his clothes, but things were happening so fast,” she said before choking back tears. “I know it’s been almost two years, but it doesn’t get any easier. ... Tonight (Houston) is sleeping easier. Why do people who kill people have so many rights? My daughter was innocent.”
Carolyn Schlemmer, Houston’s public defender, argued Houston was not even a person of interest in the DeSoto Village shooting initially because there were no guns, casings, bullets, prints, sneaker impressions or witnesses that connected him to the scene.
“There was blood on his clothes so we confiscated his clothes thinking it might help us identify who shot him,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow.
Investigators used the DNA standard from the clothing and matched it to the blood at the apartment complex.
“Although it was merely a matter of minutes between the seizure of the clothing and subsequent realization that the two shootings may have been related, the court finds that the fact inconsequential,” writes Moreland. “The determining factor is what law enforcement was doing at the time of the seizure, and the minutes that followed, connection between the two shootings was speculative, and was by no means certain.”
Assistant State Attorney Art Brown said the case will be re-opened after Houston’s DNA is obtained legally. He has filed a motion for a blood specimen taken from Houston after he was previously convicted on a weapons charge.
“We’re still extremely confident this is going to trial,” Bristow said. “I think the important thing is (Houston) isn’t going any where.”
Houston still faces an armed burglary charge stemming from the home invasion.
In the meantime, he is in federal prison serving a six-year sentence for a cocaine-related conviction.