COLUMBIA — The first witness was only a few minutes into his testimony when he was interrupted by an outburst from across the room.
“Hey man, quit lying on me,” yelled Horace Johnson, 27, who is on trial for second-degree murder in the death of his 2-year-old son.
Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane warned the defendant, and after the jury left the room, Crane made Johnson promise that he would say nothing more unless he took the stand in his own defense.
The trial, which started at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Boone County Courthouse, will center on the events leading up to the death of Johnson’s son, Cortez Johnson. His body was taken to the University Hospital emergency room on June 25, 2008.
The child’s mother, 28-year-old Keyonda Lumpkins, was found guilty of second-degree murder in September and sentenced to 24 years in prison a month later. The parents are being tried separately because each accuses the other of inflicting the injuries that led to Cortez’s death.
In his opening statement Tuesday, Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight described in great detail what life was like for Cortez during his last few weeks at a house on Elleta Boulevard, where he lived with his parents.
“Over this 10-day time period, little Cortez Johnson was severely, repeatedly and relentlessly beaten, burned and cut from his head to his toe,” Knight told the Clay County jury.
“Little Tez,” as Knight referred to him in the opening statement, died from blunt-force trauma to the head. A probable cause statement filed by the Columbia Police Department described burns to the child's face and neck that appeared to be in different stages of healing, suggesting that he had been abused over a period of time. In addition, the medical examiner found several burns on his nose, lip, buttocks and genitalia.
Johnson arrived at the house on June 16 after being treated for a gunshot wound at the hospital. Knight said Johnson spent most of the following days recovering on the bed in the master bedroom, where the majority of the abuse took place.
Aside from his outburst, Johnson appeared calm Tuesday in court, taking notes and conferring with his attorney, Stephen Wyse. Several members of the jury, which consists of 13 men and two women, periodically looked his way. Three of the jurors are alternates.
Wyse urged the jury to focus on the facts of the case in his opening statement. He said many of Cortez’s injuries were weeks and months old, sustained prior to Johnson’s arrival at the home. Johnson was released from prison in April of that year. Then he went to Reality House, a halfway house. He left there in late May, then later moved in with Lumpkins and Cortez.
He also said that no one saw Johnson striking Cortez in the 10 days before his death.
“The only action of the defendant was to be present” while the abuse took place, Wyse said.
The first witness called by the state, Johnson's friend Johnny Brown, testified that although he didn’t see Johnson hit Cortez, he watched as Johnson told Lumpkins to do so. Brown said Johnson would tell Lumpkins to “handle it” and to go and “whoop” Cortez.
Brown said he walked into the bedroom one day to find Cortez standing naked in the corner, his arms duct taped behind his back. Johnson told him Cortez was being punished for being bad, Brown said. It was at about that time in his testimony that Johnson yelled at him.
Johnson's sister, Irma Johnson, also testified that she saw her brother tell Lumpkins to hit Cortez.
The state is scheduled to continue calling witnesses at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Boone County Courthouse.