Stool Pigeon

Sure, he's got an unfortunate knack for running afoul of the law. But that's nothing compared to his talent for getting himself set free.

Finally, Beltaos wrote, the MPD had failed to find either the gun used by the shooter or the .380 allegedly brandished by Edwards. The department didn't execute a search warrant on Edwards as she had requested, she added; police claimed that they had no good address for him.

Diamond says his office was bound by Ramsey County's decision. "When you shift a case, you don't make any decisions about it. If you don't like the result of their decision, you don't change it," he explains. "We take conflict cases very seriously. It's not like there's a wink and a nod."

Indeed, Diamond's colleagues must have found their Ramsey County counterparts' line of reasoning sorely flawed. Using the same witnesses Ramsey County said were not good enough to charge Edwards, they indicted Dameion Robinson--the man Edwards had named as the shooter--for the armed robbery. And since ballistics tests corroborated Edwards's claim that the .25-caliber handgun used in the robbery also fired a lethal shot at a man the night before, Robinson was indicted for first-degree murder as well.

From the record so far, evidence in that murder case is at least as messy as it is in the robbery. These are the basics: On the morning of August 24, Derangle "Dino" Riley was found by a friend, keeled over in the front seat of his red Buick Skylark. The right-hand pocket of his shorts was turned out, but a diamond-encrusted ring still circled his right ring finger. Riley had been killed by a single shot to the head. The cops found a spent .25-caliber casing behind Riley on the floor of the back seat.

Witnesses would later tell police that Riley had last been seen alive when he left a nearby party with Dameion Robinson. The two were arguing, they claimed, over the price of some crack. Earlier that evening, other witnesses later told police, Robinson had been displaying a pink-pearl-handled .25, which he'd fired in the front yard. Another witness told police he happened across Robinson elsewhere in the neighborhood that night, and that Robinson offered him crack in exchange for a ride home.

Robinson has denied any involvement in the shooting, according to his attorney. At the time Riley was shot, he told police, he had given up trying to buy drugs from him and walked down the street to another house where he managed to score. He also denies Edwards's claims that he had any involvement in the armed robbery, or that he drove around in Edwards's car that night.

The court files about the case contain other problematic details. At least two of the shell casings recovered in the shootings were turned in by witnesses who say they found them after the police had finished examining the crime scenes. The gun that police say was used in both shootings has never been found.

Police questioned most of the witnesses several times and many of their statements changed from one interview to another. In the case of the armed robbery, all of the witnesses told conflicting stories; in the murder case, several witnesses said that they were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or crack. One told police he had been awake and partying for more than 48 hours. The person who found Riley's body told police two conflicting stories about how he happened across it.

Virtually everyone scheduled to testify against Robinson in both cases has a rap sheet; one witness has a 17-year-old murder conviction. Another has in the past owned a pink-pearl-handled .25--the relatively rare kind of weapon allegedly used in both shootings.

There is, however, one point on which the record seems clear: witnesses' recollection that Edwards was involved in the robbery and left with the shooter. Yet Edwards will not be charged with anything. In fact, even though it was his jailhouse call that first linked Robinson to the robbery, chances are he won't even testify in the case.

Assistant County Attorney Mike Furnstahl confirms that he won't call Edwards to the stand when Robinson goes to court. He won't say why, explaining that he can't discuss the particulars of his cases. But Robinson's attorney says the decision is "curious."

"Johnny Edwards says my client confessed to him," Moriarty notes. "If prosecutors say they're not going to call that witness, that says a lot about that witness's credibility. Why would you lose the opportunity to have that confession?" Moriarty says she's convinced prosecutors are anxious to keep Edwards out of the courtroom because by now he's poison to their cases--that when his background is examined, juries won't believe a word he says. (Last summer, the county attorney's office briefly considered using Edwards in a gang prosecution, but dropped the charges when it became clear he was their main witness.)

Some suspect it's that same reasoning that keeps Edwards from being charged with any crimes. The county, argues attorney Joe Margulies, has created a monster it can no longer control. "If you say Johnny Edwards is dirty, you're saying that every case prosecuted using him, every case they've staked their integrity on, that they're crap."

News intern Erik Farseth contributed research to this story.

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