A Hazelwood man will get a new trial next Tuesday in the 1994 murder case for which he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Terrell Johnson, now in his mid-thirties, will be tried again for the gunshot murder of Verna Robinson on July 21, 1994. Both prosecution and defense will each bring forward at least one new witness.
At a rally outside the City-County Building on Wednesday, supporters of Johnson claimed he was wrongfully convicted due to "shaky testimony" from the prosecution's sole witness. Bret Grote of the Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up! Chapter characterized witness Evelyn McBride as a criminal who cut deals with the District Attorney to exchange testimony for breaks on her own charges.
"The Innocence Institute [of Point Park University] did an investigation of this case, and Bill Moushey found that Evelyn McBride was facing upwards of 40 or 50 years in prison with all the accumulated charges she had on her rap sheet at the original time of this trial," said Grote.
McBride claimed Johnson worked with two other men to murder Verna Robinson, but one of that supposed trio was exonerated due to McBride perjuring herself and another was convicted only on a lesser conspiracy charge. Meanwhile, Johnson's supporters said there was no physical evidence linking Johnson to the murder of Robinson. They said he was babysitting at the time, but they claimed incompetent lawyering prevented a defense witness from taking the stand to give his alibi.
The new trial was granted to Johnson in 2009 because another Hazelwood resident said McBride was with him the night of the murder. One year later, Johnson was offered a plea deal of seven to 15 years, which would have allowed him to go free on prison time already served. However, Johnson turned down the offer, maintaining his innocence.
"All the things that he planned to do when he do come home, he wouldn't have been allowed to do,(sic)" said Saundra Cole, Johnson's wife. "As far as going back into the penitentiaries and mentoring, and things such as that matter. He wouldn't have been able to get public housing, such as that. There's a lot of things that he wouldn't have been able to do, had he took that deal.(sic)"
In the new trial, the prosecution will bring in a new witness -- the victim's mother, Barbara Robinson, who said in a new affidavit that she can identify Johnson as one of the three men who would murder her daughter.
"I think it is revealing that now the Commonwealth is coming forward with the testimony of Barbara Robinson, because they realize that their case against Terrell is insufficient based on the testimony of Evelyn McBride alone," said Grote. "Barbara Robinson testified at three prior trials that she could not identify the three men who went around her house prior to the shooting."
The trial will begin next Tuesday morning in the chamber of Common Pleas Judge Donald Machen at the Allegheny County Courthouse.