Horace Johnson found guilty of second-degree murder of son

Thursday, December 3, 2009 | 3:25 p.m. CST; updated 10:15 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 3, 2009
Horace Johnson, sits in court Thursday morning next to his attorney, Stephen Wyse. Johnson was convicted of second-degree murder Thursday in the death of his 2-year-old son, Cortez.

COLUMBIA — A Clay County jury found Horace Johnson guilty of second-degree murder Thursday in the beating death of his 2-year-old son, Cortez Johnson.

Johnson, 27, dropped his head and covered his mouth with his hand when the verdict was read. In an untucked white button shirt, Johnson sat in his seat and slumped down.

The jury, made up of two women and 10 men, deliberated for 45 minutes before Boone County Circuit Court Judge Kevin Crane read the verdict at 12:13 p.m. Johnson faces 10 years to life in prison.

Johnson was convicted for his involvement in the abuse of his son, which ultimately led to the boy's death.

Cortez's mother, Keyonda Lumpkins, 28, was found guilty in September of second-degree murder for her involvement. She was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Members of his family sat behind Johnson and silently cried. His family members declined to comment about the verdict.

Lumpkins' aunt Chenette Hill and other family members attended the trial, which started Tuesday evening.

"No words can describe how we feel," Hill said. "Either way, it does not bring my nephew back."

In closing arguments, Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight reminded the jury he did not have the burden of proving who inflicted the deadly injuries, but that it occurred in Johnson's presence.

"A murder trial cannot get any stronger than this," he said.

"The day before Cortez died, he stood next to the defendant, while (Cortez was) held in the medieval-looking belt contraption," Knight said. "He could not have had an easier prisoner than his son."

Defense attorney Stephen Wyse said he believed the jury concentrated on the emotional impact of the pictures and not the facts.

"It is a horrible thing, and emotions are powerful," he said.

Knight said he believed the jury did the right thing and acted according to the law. The prosecution had more than 1,000 pictures to choose from to represent more than 200 injuries on the boy's body, Knight said.

Not all 200 injuries were in the 60 photographs the jury saw.

"Little Tez had injuries from the top of his head to the sole of one of his feet," Knight said.

The defense did not present any witnesses or evidence. Wyse said he believed the burden was on the state to prove Johnson's involvement and the evidence did not support that.

"We thought we had our case made," he said. "But we came up short."

Knight asked the jury to send a message to the community.

"Tell them our justice system is going to stand up for innocent victims — and that is all Cortez was. Nothing but an innocent little boy."

"(Cortez) didn't have anyone. He never had anyone in his life. All he ever had was you, the justice system," Knight said as he pointed to the jury before deliberations.

Wyse said he plans to file an appeal based on the legality of how the evidence was obtained. He said that Columbia Police Detective Joseph Jackson continued to interrogate Johnson after the defendant had asked for his lawyer six times.

Johnson also said Jackson threatened him to talk by showing pictures of his son to other inmates and telling him that inmates don't like guys who murder little kids, Wyse said. Most of the interrogation happened after the alleged threats, Wyse said.

Knight said he is going to recommend that Johnson receive a life sentence, saying that Johnson and Lumpkins were some of the "coldest people I have ever met in my 17 years of prosecution."

Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 1, 2010, in the Boone County Circuit Court.

"I am going to do my best to take up for the little guy," Knight said.

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