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Suspect gives details about Manatee School for the Arts teacher’s slaying

NORTH PORT -- On the night Katrelle Johnson allegedly shot beloved Manatee School for the Arts teacher Kenneth Ellis, he knew police were tied up with a potential hostage situation on the other side of town.

According to court documents, Johnson admitted to investigators he and a friend intended to rob a home in a North Port neighborhood away from an area where there was a lot of police activity.

On the evening of March 29, Johnson, then 18, and an accomplice were aware something big was happening in the older section of town near the North Port Library. A SWAT team had assumed a perimeter around a home and several North Port officers were tied up assisting them.

By about 9:30 p.m., SWAT ended a four-and-a-half-hour standoff with an 18-year-old who fired a weapon in his front yard after fighting with his girlfriend. He barricaded himself in the Talbot Street home where he was staying with his girlfriend and her baby. A SWAT member fired a beanbag pellet at the teen once he was out of the home, and he was arrested.

Just as officers were going back to their assigned zones in the city, police received another serious call around 10 p.m.: A 61-year-old man had been gunned down in the doorway of his Albren Street home. According to court records, Johnson told investigators he and a friend, armed with guns and donning ski masks, found a home they wanted to rob.

Through the blinds of the Albren home, off Cranberry Boulevard, Johnson saw an older blond woman near her computer. Believing he and his friend could rob her, the pair knocked at the door.

Johnson said a man answered the door instead, which startled him. Seeing the gun, Kenneth Ellis, a longtime martial arts instructor at Manatee School for the Arts, went into a defensive stance. Johnson told investigators he and his friend raised their guns. However, his friend did not pull the trigger, he said. Johnson said he fired the gun and the man’s shirt “turned red.” The pair fled and sped away in a borrowed SUV.

Johnson told officers his friend’s name. However, no arrest was made.

NPPD Capt. Bob Estrada said they checked out Johnson’s story.

“He (Johnson) said a lot of things,” Estrada said. “It’s an active investigation. We know someone else was involved in the murder.”

Johnson is not only in the Sarasota County jail for allegedly killing Ellis, but he has also been charged with the June 21 slaying of Robert Mann at a Warm Mineral Springs triplex. Katrina Stoner, Mann’s longtime girlfriend, was injured in the shooting when a stray bullet struck her in the leg. Johnson allegedly went to the triplex to collect money for drugs.

The gun Johnson reportedly used in both slayings was recovered by Sarasota County sheriff’s deputies.

Before he was arrested, Johnson allegedly told his friend not to keep the gun at his home but bury it on property along Biscayne Drive, court documents show.

Johnson has been charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder in the Mann case and premeditated murder in the Ellis shooting.

Trial dates are set for April and October, respectively.