By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
When 19-year-old Milton Lewis accepted the plea prosecutors offered him in the 1995 killing of Steven Taylor, the sentence seemed fair. Five years in prison seemed like a reasonable sentence for second degree unintentional felony murder--essentially for being an accessory to the drug-deal-gone-bad that ended in Taylor's murder. The problem, from a defendant's perspective, is that he was charged with first-degree murder based on the word of a snitch who turned out to be wrong.
A snitch, it turned out, whose story police and prosecutors never fully corroborated yet planned to take to trial. Worse, a snitch whose statements about other murders had proven wrong. Prosecutors haven't returned City Pages' phone calls about the case, but from where Lewis sits, it would be hard not to conclude that had his attorney not hired his own investigator and done the legwork police and prosecutors should have done 16 months ago, he'd be on trial right now facing a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit.
Lewis's sentencing, scheduled for April 30 in Hennepin County District Court, will end the last of the six high-profile cases that police claim have disabled the Rollin' 30s Bloods, which they describe as the city's most violent gang. Each of the cases has hinged on testimony from Johnny Edwards, a reputed former Bloods member who claims to have witnessed some of the crimes and heard fellow gang members take credit for the others. In jail last year on charges that he held up a motorist, Edwards called the Minneapolis Police Department and fingered several men in cases police had been trying to solve for the better part of a year ("By Any Means Necessary," CP, 1/22/97).
The first three men Edwards testified against were subsequently convicted. Reggie Ferguson, the alleged leader of the Bloods, his brother Alonzo, and Shannon Solomon were each found guilty of murder or attempted murder in three separate cases. Charges against the fourth, murder defendant George Dixon, were dropped earlier this year when police reportedly found the real killer. The fifth, Ferguson half-brother Obuatawan Holt, was acquitted in February of attempted murder by a jury that found Edwards's tale unbelievable ("Bad Company," CP, 2/26/97).
The matter of Johnny Edwards combines all of the worst elements of an informant situation: A snitch with a mile-long rap sheet offers up information about cases in which officials are under pressure to secure convictions. The use of informants like Edwards has skyrocketed in recent years, especially in drug and gang cases. Police and prosecutors maintain that informants are a necessary evil. Defense lawyers and civil libertarians counter that an increasing number of criminals are learning how easy it is to get out of jail free.
Steven Taylor's murder had gone unsolved for 10 months when Johnny Edwards made his deal with the cops. Until then, police worked off statements made by Steven Nyabiosi, who was with Taylor at the time of the murder. According to Nyabiosi, on Feb. 16, 1995, he and Taylor were at Taylor's house at 3308 Pleasant Ave. S., when they decided to go in search of some crack. On the way out of the house to Taylor's pickup truck, they encountered Lewis standing in the front yard of the apartment building next door, and told him they were looking for crack.
Lewis then reportedly went inside the building and re-emerged a few minutes later with another young man, Kiddrick Code. Code went to the driver's window of the truck and sold Taylor some crack. Taylor revealed a large roll of bills, which Code tried to grab. They struggled, and Code reportedly pulled a gun and shot Taylor in the face. Nyabiosi, who knows neither Lewis nor Code, described both teens to police but couldn't name them.
Edwards's tale differed significantly from Nyabiosi's. While negotiating his deal, Edwards told the cops that two or three days after the shooting, Lewis confessed to Edwards and his first cousin, Jowanza Edwards, that he was the killer. According to Johnny Edwards, Lewis told him he found a pager on the street. It was buzzing, so Lewis called the number and talked to a "geeker" who was looking for crack. Lewis supposedly told the caller to come to his house and went outside to wait. In Edwards's version, the men drove up but no drug deal went down. Instead, Lewis walked up to Taylor and shot. After confessing to Edwards, Lewis supposedly threw his gun into the Mississippi.
The first time Edwards told the story, he said Lewis was with some unidentified friends during the shooting. The next day, Edwards changed his narrative, telling police that a man named Anthony Code was standing outside the building when the geekers drove up, and that Code went into the building and came out with Lewis, whom Edwards again named as the shooter.
Police eventually came up with yet another version of events surrounding the shooting: Anthony Code, whose younger brother Kiddrick has now reportedly confessed to being the shooter, also fingered Lewis. Police and prosecutors went with Edwards's story, and never followed up by finding and interviewing Jowanza Edwards, never went back to Nyabiosi to ask if Edwards's account jibed with his memory, and never contacted Laverne Johnson, the man who was supposedly present when Lewis confessed to Code.