By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
After more than five hours of deliberation Friday, no verdict was reached in the murder trial of Phillip Johnson.
Victor David Smith was charged with murdering Keizer’s Johnson with a firearm.
Johnson was shot multiple times outside his Keizer apartment the night of July 1, 2004. Smith was arraigned last year on the single murder charge. The trial started on Tuesday, following a day for jury selection, and will continue Monday in Judge Tom Hart’s courtroom at the Marion County Courthouse. The start time for Monday is unknown, as it depends on how long jury deliberation takes.
Smith was a prime suspect early in the case. At the time of the murder, he lived in Salem with Imani Williams, Johnson’s former girlfriend and a key figure in the saga. Much of the prosecution’s case was based on Smith being upset Williams still had strong feelings for Johnson.
Friday’s deliberations followed lengthy closing arguments for both sides. Prosecutor Paige Clarkson from the Marion County District Attorney’s office opened by once again showing “The Defendant’s Prophecy,” a letter Smith had written to Williams. The letter had also led Tuesday’s opening arguments.
“This defendant had a problem and the problem had a name: Phillip Johnson,” Clarkson said. “Phillip Johnson was the one thing that stood between him and what he loved. Phillip Johnson deserves justice. But to this defendant, Phillip Johnson was only a problem that needed to be solved. It was a problem that needed to be solved with murder.”
Clarkson pointed to evidence as showing Smith’s motive and being at the location.
“There is a lot of evidence in this case that tells you Phillip Johnson was murdered by this defendant,” she said. “We have a timeline of events of July 1, 2004. It tells you this defendant was on the way to murder Phillip Johnson. That is objective information that is completely unbiased.”
In particular, Clarkson pointed to multiple cell phone calls shortly after the murder.
“Imani Williams is calling this defendant at almost the exact time Phillip Johnson is killed,” Clarkson said. “There’s no reason for her to call (Smith) if he’s sitting next to her. She’s calling him because he’s not there…You can infer where he was. He was out shooting Phillip Johnson. He was out solving his problem.”
Olcott Thompson, Smith’s attorney, countered that the prosecution’s case left too many holes and created more than enough reasonable doubt. For example, he pointed to different details told by Sara Fandrei and Steven Chrisco, the two the prosecution stated drove Smith to Johnson’s apartment complex.
“Everyone sees the same event differently,” Thompson said. “Her story is slightly different than Mr. Chrisco’s, no question. How consistent are the stories? The problem is, the big stuff in (both) stories don’t match other things.”
Thompson said several suspects – including Chrisco, who has been in and out of prison on various charges the past 15 years – were too quickly dismissed by investigators with the Keizer Police Department.
“The state has to prove things,” Thompson said. “They’re saying, ‘Trust us; we’re the government.’ You need to make sure you get your decision right. It’s OK to let someone who is guilty go free if the state didn’t prove its case.”
Judge Tom Hart sent the jury out to deliberate at 11:20 a.m. He called the jury back in at 4:30 p.m. and instructed the jury members to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday, with strict orders to not discuss the case over the weekend.