Court delays murder trial
The discovery of a possible new witness at the 11th-hour pulled a murder trial off the Douglas County Circuit Court calendar Friday. The trial was set to begin Monday. Tiawain Albert Johnson, of Chicago faces a first-degree intentional homicide charge stemming from the Jan. 15, 2012, shooting death of Toriano “Snap” Cooper outside his Superior home, 1901 N. 12th St. The fatal shooting is believed linked to drugs and an armed robbery that took place at Johnson’s home, according to the criminal complaint. Johnson blamed Cooper for setting up the robbery and shot him in retaliation, according to preliminary hearing testimony from two men facing unrelated drug charges. Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank filed a motion Friday to suspend the jury trial because of a new witness incarcerated at the Stanley Correctional Institution. The man sent a letter, which arrived at Blank’s office Dec. 30, stating Johnson had told him things in confidence about the case while the two were behind bars at the Douglas County Jail. “Eleventh hour information happens on occasion,” Blank said. “I can’t recall anything this dramatic though.” The new witness told Superior police investigators that Johnson confessed to the shooting and his motive. He also said he overheard jail conversations between two of the men who had provided testimony against Johnson, which undermine their credibility. The man’s statements require follow-up investigation and interviews, Blank stated in the motion. “The state has an obligation to assess any and all potentially incriminating and exculpatory information,” he wrote. Court records indicate a second new witness had also stepped forward recently to provide information to police that he heard Johnson confess to the homicide to inmates at the jail. With the new information, Blank told the court, the state’s case has changed dramatically. Judge Kelly Thimm agreed it would be a miscarriage of justice if the adjournment wasn’t granted, although court records indicate he found the withholding of information on the witnesses from the defense “disheartening.” A scheduling conference was set for Feb. 4, and for the first time since Johnson was charged, a $1 million signature bond was set. The Douglas County Jail confirmed Monday Johnson was released on bond. He was ordered to have no contact with the state’s witnesses and not use or possess dangerous weapons, controlled substances or paraphernalia.