California Supreme Court overturns convictions of L.A. gang leader and alleged accomplice
After upholding nearly 50 death sentences in a row, the California Supreme Court on Monday broke its pattern by overturning the convictions of a reputed gang leader in Los Angeles and his alleged accomplice for two murders that sent both men to death row for 15 years.
The state high court unanimously ruled that Cleamon Johnson and Michael Allen, convicted of killing rival gang members Peyton Beroit and Donald Loggins in 1991, were denied a fair trial when a judge removed a juror who appeared to be critical of the prosecution’s case.
In a ruling written by Justice Carol A. Corrigan, the court cited a lack of evidence to support former Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles Horan’s decision to remove the juror for prejudging the case and relying on evidence outside the 1997 murder trial.
Johnson, known as “Big Evil,” headed a gang called the 89 Family Bloods during the 1980s and early 1990s that authorities contend was responsible for about 60 killings in South-Central Los Angeles.
Johnson was convicted of ordering Allen to kill the two rival gang members with an Uzi. Johnson also was charged with a third killing and two attempted killings but another jury in 1999 deadlocked on those charges.
In reversing the convictions that sent Johnson and Allen to death row, the state high court said the juror who was removed was deliberating properly and relying on experience, not bias, to evaluate a prosecution eyewitness.
“It may be argued that Juror No. 11’s conclusion was based upon a weak premise or rested upon an overbroad inference,” Corrigan wrote. “Jurors, however, are the judges of credibility, and conscientious jurors may come to different conclusions.
“It is not the province of trial or reviewing courts to substitute their logic for that of jurors to whom credibility decisions are entrusted.”
Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, said a decision on whether to retry Johnson and Allen would be made after the office reviews the ruling and assesses the case.
Lynda Gledhill, a spokesperson for Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, said her office is considering a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We’re disappointed but reviewing our options,” Gledhill said.
Photo: Cleamon Johnson. Credit: Associated Press