Testify, Johnny, Testify!
On May 23, Roamel Dalton was drinking at Johnny A's 200 Club on West Broadway Avenue. While at the bar he observed his half brother, Johnny Earl Edwards, enter and leave the establishment on several occasions.
At 2:00 p.m., according to a search warrant and criminal complaint subsequently filed in Hennepin County District Court, Dalton left Johnny A's and drove to his fiancée's house in North Minneapolis. Upon pulling up to the residence, however, he noticed another vehicle come to a stop behind him. He then watched two men exit the car—a blue, late model Buick—and walk purposefully in his direction. Sensing trouble, Dalton took off running. The 29-year-old didn't get far, though, before tripping and falling to the ground.
One of the men chasing Dalton pulled him to his feet and placed a gun to his head. His assailants shoved him into the back seat of the Buick. The driver turned around and smiled at him. Dalton knew the man: his half brother, Johnny Edwards. Dalton recognized the three other people in the vehicle as well, according to court records. The man who had allegedly held the gun to his head was 19-year-old Leonard Slaughter III. The two men sandwiching him in the backseat were Edwards's stepsons, 18-year-old Deaunteze Bobo and 20-year-old Theodore "Boo" Bobo. The robbery, in other words, was a family affair.
Johnny Edwards is an infamous figure in Minneapolis crime lore. He has been the subject of more than a dozen City Pages stories since 1997. (For a complete archive visit http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter.) The reason: Beginning with a phone call from jail in January 1996, Edwards has intermittently been a controversial paid informant for the Hennepin County Attorney's office. Most notably he was a key figure in attempts to prosecute six members of the Rolling 30s Bloods in the 1990s. Edwards's testimony was central to the prosecutions of brothers Alonzo and Reggie Ferguson and their half-brother Obuatawan Holt and three other men on charges including murder and attempted murder.
In return for this cooperation, the one-legged snitch (his limb was shot off in 1993) has received money and gifts, and, most significantly, has seen many of his own legal troubles evaporate. "Informants are not motivated by altruism by any means," says defense attorney Frederick Goetz, who at one time represented both Reggie and Alonzo Ferguson. "They're motivated by pure, unadulterated self interest."
Even while becoming a key informant for the county attorney's office, Edwards has continuously run afoul of the law. Hennepin County Court records show 59 entries under his name dating back to 1992, for alleged crimes ranging from reckless driving to second-degree murder (which led to a conviction for third degree assault). Despite this lengthy rap sheet, Edwards has only spent one extended stint in prison, according to records maintained by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. In May 1999 he was issued a seven-year sentence for a first-degree assault conviction. He was released in May 2003.
Unfortunately, Edwards's track record as a trial witness has been spotty at best. As City Pages has previously reported, charges against one of the men Edwards had fingered, George Dixon, were dropped in early 1997. The reason: Police discovered that he wasn't the killer, as Edwards had claimed. Likewise, Edwards had told police that he'd heard Milton Lewis confess to a drug-related murder. Just before Lewis's trial, however, another man confessed to the crime.
After one trial, in a detail CP noted at the time, one skeptical juror allegedly pronounced, "We wouldn't have believed Johnny Edwards if he'd stood in front of us claiming he only had one leg."
Despite these credibility issues, Edwards's testimony helped convict both Fergusons and several other defendants. However, Holt was found not guilty of attempted murder and three other charges in 1997. And several other cases fell apart entirely.
Then, in 2002, Edwards began changing his story. In a hearing related to Alonzo Ferguson's motion for a new trial, Edwards's father, John Turnipseed, testified that his son had lied on the stand. Turnipseed stated that his son had fingered Ferguson for the 1996 murder of Allen Wheatley, Jr., because he was upset that Ferguson, his cousin, hadn't retaliated against the people who shot off his leg.
"Here's a man who's serving a life sentence because of a lie," Turnipseed said, "and my son feels remorse." The reason Edwards himself didn't testify about his fabrications: He feared prosecution for perjury.
Whatever change of heart Edwards underwent in prison, it apparently didn't deter him from returning to a life of crime on the outside. On the night of the Roamel Dalton kidnapping, Edwards purportedly drove the five-person party to his house on Lyndale Avenue North. According to the criminal complaint, Edwards believed that Dalton sold drugs for a living and likely had a substantial amount of cash available to him. Edwards wanted to know where it was. Dalton's attackers deposited him in Edwards's garage, where they beat him and stabbed him in the left arm. Eventually, the arrest record suggests, Dalton convinced Edwards that his money was kept in a safe at their grandmother's apartment in downtown Minneapolis. Unbeknownst to Edwards, however, their grandmother no longer lived in the public-housing development on Hennepin Avenue.
Dalton was "hog tied," according to the search warrant, placed in the trunk of the Buick, and covered with a plastic sheet. He was then driven to the Hennepin Avenue apartment complex. But Dalton's assailants now faced a troubling predicament: The apartment was located directly across the street from the First Precinct police station.
Deaunteze Bobo and Slaughter eventually escorted their captive to the entrance of the building. Dalton began pushing numbers on the code pad in hopes of getting someone to open the door. Inside the apartment complex was a security guard. When he stood up to see what was happening, Bobo and Slaughter got spooked. In the ensuing confusion, Dalton was able to break free. He ran across the street and into the lobby of the suddenly appealing First Precinct police station.
According to the search warrant, Dalton informed the cops that he'd been robbed of $1,000 and that Edwards had threatened to kill him. He also claimed that Edwards and his stepsons had been on a robbery spree in recent months, targeting drug dealers because they generally have a lot of cash and aren't likely to complain to the police.
On June 14, all four assailants were charged with a single count of kidnapping. Roughly a month later, Edwards pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of third degree assault. He is expected to receive a 36-month prison term when he's sentenced on August 31. The other three cases are still pending.
The Dalton kidnapping, however, was only the beginning of Edwards's troubles in the month of May. Six days later, Jerry Jiles was shot outside of Johnny A's 200 Club at approximately 12:20 a.m. According to a search warrant filed in Hennepin County District Court, Edwards is believed to have been the shooter. However, he has not been charged with any crime related to the Jiles shooting.
According to Lt. Gregory Reinhardt of the Minneapolis Police Department, the case is still under investigation. "Being a suspect doesn't necessarily mean that you can be charged," he notes. "Obviously the investigators don't feel they have a strong enough case at this point."
Two days after the Jiles incident, Edwards himself was shot four times in front of a house on James Avenue North. Nobody has been arrested in connection with that shooting.
Edwards could not be located for comment for this story. His attorney, public defender Nancy Laskaris, was out of town last week. One thing is known about Edwards's whereabouts, though: He is not presently incarcerated. The city's most famous snitch still roams the streets.
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