Suspect’s fear for his life cause for shooting incident

LISBON – A Steubenville man who claimed fear of not knowing what his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend was going to do led him to shoot into an apartment building in East Liverpool in January was sentenced to three years in prison by Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Washam on Thursday.

Cedrick Johnson, 21, had previously pleaded guilty to three charges, two second-degree felony counts of discharging a firearm into a habitation and a third-degree felony charge of tampering with evidence.

Assistant County Prosecutor Ryan Weikart had requested five years, noting Johnson has a previous conviction for a gun-related crime. Additionally, Weikart said Johnson burned his clothes, concealed the gun, fled from police and was arrested in Steubenville.

The shooting incident involved Johnson firing at least three or four warning shots from a .22-caliber handgun above the head of Tyler Austin in the Woodland Hills area. Instead of hitting Austin, the shots hit apartments 316 and 317, one of which had a baby’s crib near where the bullet was found lodged in a Rubbermaid container. However, no one was injured.

Erica Burke, currently Johnson’s fiance and Austin’s ex-girlfriend, testified before Johnson’s sentencing. She said there had been a verbal dispute between the two men, which started at Austin’s father’s home on St. George Street. Then Austin followed them.

Burke said Johnson was not trying to start anything with Austin that night and she had a restraining order against Austin, which said he was not supposed to have been any less than 500 feet from her. She said she thought she had taken steps to prevent something happening, but it did not work.

“I’m asking you to give my son a chance,” Johnson’s mother, Patricia Murphy, said to Washam prior to sentencing. “I know what he did is wrong … wrong is wrong and right is right … I don’t want to see him go to prison for trying to defend himself.”

Murphy said Johnson called her right after the shooting incident, admitting something bad had happened. She urged him to come to her house in Steubenville and said she planned to call the police with him, but she wanted to see him first. He was arrested prior to getting to her home.

She also described Johnson’s previous crime as a case where a gun was fired and Johnson took the fall for a friend, who would have done some real prison time if he had been convicted.

Before sentencing, Johnson apologized to the court for his actions. He said he had bought the gun off the streets in East Liverpool and was afraid of what else the gun had been involved in so he got rid of it. He admitted to fearing for his life when Austin followed him.

“My mind went out the window,” Johnson said, adding Austin had previously threatened to kill him, Burke and the two children. “I didn’t want to kill him.”

Naming the residents of the apartments struck by the bullets by name, Johnson apologized for frightening them.

“I will never, ever pick up another firearm,” Johnson promised.

Johnson’s defense attorney, Edward Lee Gillison Jr., told Washam his client feared for his life and the life of Burke. He said Austin violating the protection order, threatening them, arguing with Johnson and following him led to him being unsure of what Austin was actually capable of doing.

“I don’t downplay there was a lot of luck in this matter,” Gillison said, adding no one was injured and the penalties would be a whole lot steeper if someone had. Gillison continued he believed some punishment is necessary, but asked Washam for a lower term than what Weikart was suggesting. He called it “a pleasure” to represent Johnson, noting he is honest and legitimately has a good heart. He also said Johnson is remorseful for his actions.

“My client can be a productive member of society again,” Gillison added.

Washam said he agreed with Weikart that it was Johnson who introduced a weapon into a verbal argument, but added he believed there were mitigating circumstances. He issued the three-year sentence, giving Johnson credit for 212 days served.