High court upholds conviction in police slaying

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the murder conviction of a man in the shooting of a suburban St. Louis police officer who had argued on appeal that jurors could have been swayed against him because of a police presence at his trial.

Kevin Johnson, who was 19 at the time, was sentenced to death for the July 2005 slaying of Kirkwood Police Sgt. Bill McEntee, who had been called twice to Johnson’s neighborhood on the day he was killed.

Police were searching for Johnson on an alleged probation violation when his younger brother suffered a seizure in his home, and his family sought assistance from the police. McEntee was among the additional officers who responded to the scene of the medical emergency. Johnson’s brother died at the hospital.

Later that day, McEntee returned to the neighborhood in response to a report about fireworks. Johnson approached McEntee “and said something to the effect of, ‘you killed my brother,’” before shooting him multiple times in front of other people, according to the Supreme Court decision.

His conviction and death sentence originally were upheld by the Supreme Court in May 2009.

In his latest appeal, Johnson’s current attorneys raised about a dozen claims that his original trial lawyers were ineffective. Among other things, they argued that the presence of uniformed police who gathered in the courtroom and halls to watch the trial could have influenced jurors to find Johnson guilty.

Judge George Draper III rejected that argument in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion. He wrote that there was no reason to believe jurors came into contact with any officers and noted that a large number of police could be in a courthouse during any trial.

Judges Patricia Breckenridge and Laura Denvir Stith dissented. They said the case should have been returned to a trial court for an evidentiary hearing on whether Johnson’s trial attorneys were ineffective for not objecting to the police spectators.

“The presence of the uniformed officers reasonably may have created an outside influence on the jury, affecting the presumption of innocence necessary for a fair trial and impacting the harshness of the sentence imposed,” Breckenridge wrote.

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