Snitch Glitch

Has Johnny "Walk on Water" Edwards finally met his match?

In the first three of those cases, prosecutors were able to secure court orders sealing their star witness's identity until nearly the moment he took the stand. As a result, defense attorneys couldn't investigate Edwards's background or any incentives he may have gotten to testify. Local prosecutors and police spent nearly $11,000 to support Edwards during the trials, at one point putting him up for several weeks in a downtown hotel at a cost of $79 a night because they feared for his safety. County investigators also wrote Darryl Turnipseed, Edwards's uncle and co-defendant in the current case, a check for $341 for repairs to Edwards's car.

After three of the men Edwards had fingered were convicted, however, the tide turned against the county attorney's office. Charges were dropped against a fourth defendant after prosecutors learned that Edwards had informed on the wrong person. A fifth man was acquitted by a jury whose members told the defense attorney that they "wouldn't have believed Johnny Edwards if he'd stood in front of us claiming he only had one leg." (Edwards lost a leg as the result of a 1994 drive-by shooting.) In the sixth case, police also learned that Edwards had named the wrong shooter. The man Edwards initially fingered pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Meanwhile Edwards's own legal troubles kept evaporating. While the so-called Bloods cases were under way, police reports show, officers discovered him and several other men aiming an unregistered gun on a South Side intersection. During his arrest in that incident, Edwards boasted that police couldn't touch him because he was the "star witness" in some big cases downtown. That case was referred to the Ramsey County attorney's office because Edwards's role as an informant presented Hennepin County prosecutors with a conflict of interest. Prosecutors there declined to press charges, citing a lack of evidence. The Minneapolis police officer who arrested the men had another explanation: "We didn't want to charge him," he told City Pages at the time, "because it would have made him look like a bad witness."

Also during this period, a marijuana possession charge stemming from a 1995 raid on Edwards's apartment was dismissed, and there were no charges in a series of domestic violence complaints filed by both his wife and his girlfriend. Finally, the robbery case that launched his career as an informant was dropped in 1997 when the alleged victims could no longer be found.

But Edwards's biggest stroke of luck had yet to occur. In August 1997 three North Minneapolis men told police that Edwards and an unknown accomplice had robbed them at gunpoint. After Edwards was arrested hours later following a high-speed chase, he again offered to help police nail a bigger fish. He identified his accomplice as one Dameion Robinson--who, he told police, had used the same pink-pearl-handled .25 in both the robbery and in a South Side murder the night before.

But when Robinson's murder case came to trial last summer, prosecutors, perhaps remembering the previous occasions on which Edwards's testimony had appeared to hurt their cases, never called their key witness. Despite contradictions in the remaining evidence, Robinson was convicted. The robbery case against Edwards was forwarded to Ramsey County, whose attorneys again declined to prosecute, citing the witnesses' contradictory statements. It was, in the words of Joe Margulies, a defense attorney who's gone up against Edwards, as if he had a "walk-on-water pass."

Now, however, it looks as if Edwards's pass may have expired. His case and those of the other three men arrested in the October 27 raid have been forwarded to Washington County Assistant Attorney Richard Hodsdon, who is prosecuting them in Hennepin County's drug court. On November 10 the court eliminated Edwards's bail and released him on the condition that he participate in 21 days of inpatient chemical-dependency treatment at Fairview-University Medical Center. Co-defendant Warren Williams's bail was reduced in exchange for his participation in a separate treatment program. Jowanza Edwards was mistakenly released by jail administrators who hadn't heard that prosecutors planned to charge him; a warrant for his arrest is pending. Darryl Turnipseed is still in jail.

Hodsdon says the cases won't end there. "[Edwards] can become the poster child for treatment and it will not do anything to dissuade our continued prosecution," he says. "Drug use or non-use is not germane to a large-scale drug distribution case." If convicted, each of the men faces a minimum sentence of more than six years in prison. But it's possible that even at that stage, Edwards will walk away with a comparatively good deal: His three co-defendants all have prior felony convictions which could drive up their terms, in some cases to as long as 40 years. Edwards's felony record is clean--possibly because Hodsdon is the first prosecutor to actually pursue felony charges against him.

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