OCEANSIDE — Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman rejected a request Dec. 17 by San Diego County prosecutors to a rare dual jury trial for two men accused in the murder-for-hire killing of a former minor league baseball player.
Kirkman said he believed there was too much conflict between the cases to ensure the defendants received a fair trail. “My goal is to make sure the hearing is fair and the rights of the defendants are persevered,” the judge said.
During pre-trial motions, Deputy District Attorney George Loyd argued that a single trial in which two juries would hear the evidence against Dominic Porter and Jonathan Johnson at the same time would be the most efficient way to try the young men. One jury would have decided Porter’s case and the other Johnson’s.
For about a week, each jury would have been omitted from the courtroom while evidence that’s not admissible in their case was presented, Loyd said.
Porter, 23, and Johnson, 22, are charged with gunning down 34-year-old Kenya Hunt around 10 a.m. March 22, 2007, while he stood in front of his Lofty Grove Drive home. Two special circumstance allegations — financial gain and lying in wait — are attached to the charge.
An Oceanside High School graduate, Hunt spent time with the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants minor league baseball clubs in the early 1990s. At the time of his death, he was the owner of a moving company.
Both men have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they face up to life in prison, Loyd said. The District Attorney’s office is not pursuing the death penalty, the lawyer said.
Prosecutors expect to call more than 50 witnesses in each trial. Porter’s trial is scheduled for March 3, while Johnson’s trial is slated for May 12.
Oceanside police Officer Jeffrey Novak testified at the preliminary hearing that Johnson told police that Porter came to him and said that he was getting paid $50,000 to kill Hunt and that he would give Johnson half if he would be a look out for him, the officer said.
Before the sun rose, Johnson said he and Porter sat dressed in black in the bushes outside of Hunt’s house, Novak testified. Johnson told police he had second thoughts after a woman with a small child left the victim’s residence, but he didn’t leave the scene, Novak said.
According to Johnson, after Hunt came out of his house with a younger man Porter snuck up to Hunt and fired three shots in rapid succession, Novak said. Johnson told police he left after the first shot hit Hunt, the officer said.
Under cross-examination by Porter’s attorney, Kathleen Cannon, Novak said it’s not unusual for individuals accused of a crime to point the finger, deny or minimize the situation.
Cannon asked the officer if Johnson told the police why he didn’t leave the scene after his “epiphany” that this was a bad idea. Novak said they asked him, but Johnson didn’t have an answer.
Following the judge’s announcement to separate the duo, Hunt’s younger sister, Ashonda Brooks, said she understood the judge’s decision to grant separate trials, but she’s still “frustrated” that nearly two years after her brother’s death the case hasn’t been resolved.
Porter and Johnson remain in custody on $5,000,000 bail.