LUMBERTON — District Attorney Johnson Britt says he is “devastated” that Marques Brown escaped a first-degree murder conviction in the shooting death of a Lumberton police officer.
“Plain and simple,” he said.
“Is it the most surprising verdict? No,” Britt said while seated in his office the day after a jury found Brown guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder. “Is it one of the most surprising? Yes.”
Brown was on trial for the murder of Officer Jeremiah Goodson Jr., who was off duty and in civilian attire when he was shot four times as he stepped from his vehicle to try to arrest Brown on outstanding warrants.
Britt wanted first-degree murder and life in prison. The death penalty had been removed as an option before the trial began on Feb. 12 because of questions about Brown’s mental capabilities.
Brown also was found guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of marijuana with intent to sell or distribute. The 33-year-old will serve at least 27 years in prison, with credit for almost six years already served.
Britt is still recovering from the three-week long trial.
“I am exhausted emotionally and physically,” he said.
Reading the impact statement Monday written by Goodson’s 7-year-old daughter, Jurnee, took a toll on him, he said. Britt tried to control his emotions as he read her letter in the court during sentencing.
The letter began with “Dear Mr. Bad Man, My mommy said, you should love everybody. I love my mommy. I love my daddy. Why don’t you love my daddy?”
Britt’s voice began to crack; eventually he broke down and wept.
The letter ended with, “I will always want my daddy. Can you please be a good man for me? I don’t want to hurt no more. Signed Jurnee.”
Britt said he hasn’t had an opportunity to speak with jurors yet.
“I think, they didn’t buy into the lying-in-wait theory. I am not going to critique, and it is inappropriate for me to criticize their decision,” he said. “My job was to present the best way I can and persuade them to deliver a verdict favorable to the the state.”
Juror No. 5 was Margaret McMillan, who works in the press department at The Robesonian.
“I thought it was clear-cut first-degree murder,” she said. “I thought it was the way all the jurors were going to decide until the psychiatrist got on the stand.”
Dr. George Corvin testified that Brown suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome and mental impairment.
“Until that, you could see their feathers kinda fall,” McMillan said. “They (jury) weren’t looking at Brown the same way.”
The prosecution presented to the jury closed-circuit video footage.
“Britt did a wonderful job showing the crime scene. When he (Britt) showed the video frame by frame, it was clear-cut thing that it was first-degree murder. But he used the wrong camera to demonstrate that,” McMillan said.
Goodson did not appear to have a gun in footage from camera’s three, five and six, she said. But camera five clearly showed Goodson exiting his vehicle without making the movements Brown said the officer made.
“You could see Goodson’s door open. It didn’t open more than 12 inches,” McMillan said, “He (Brown) said he had a gun pointed toward him. He (Goodson) didn’t have no hand raised like he (Brown) testified. There ain’t no way.”
McMillan believes if the video played from camera five was utilized in Britt’s frame-by-frame demonstration, the verdict would have been first-degree murder.
“There was four of us that wanted first-degree,” she said. “Two wanted second-degree and the ones left, they were torn between both first and second.”
McMillan said no one argued for not guilty.
“Everybody wanted him convicted because he killed a man,” she said.
Two rounds of voting were needed to determine the eventual verdict.
“They were going back and fourth about his intellectual disability, state of mind and his childhood trauma,” McMillan said.
The fact that Goodson did not wait for a uniformed officer played a huge role in the verdict, she said. But McMillan believes that in uniform or not, a police officer is always on duty.
“He wasn’t dressed in his uniform, so what?” she said. “If I’m in trouble I don’t care if he is not protocol. I want the officer to help me if I need help. I was the one who slowed the verdict down.”
During the sentencing phase the jury was asked to consider four aggravating factors.
The jury accepted two: The defendant was armed with or used a deadly weapon at the time of the crime, and the defendant committed the offense while on pretrial release on another charge.
McMillan said some jurors felt that Goodson would not have been killed if he had been in uniform and he had waited until a uniformed officer arrived.
“They were pounding that theory in my mind over and over and over again,” she said.
The jury felt pressured to make a decision quickly, McMillan said.
McMillan said she compromised and settled for second-degree murder in order to avoid a hung jury and a mistrial.
Reach Annick Joseph by calling 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected] or Facebook Annick MultiMedia Journalist.