Cash Feenz killer Kemar Johnston doesn’t look like a double-murderer as he sits at the defense table in Courtroom 8A. He’s too boyish looking. Clad in his customary gray blazer and open-collar blue shirt, the 23-year-old Johnston could pass for a 16-year-old kid. His observance of the situation screams youth. He rarely looks at witnesses, preferring to watch his life unravel on a laptop computer televising the penalty phase of his trial.
“He is not a menacing person,’’ insists defense attorney David Brener. “That was one night in the life of Kemar Johnston.’’ Oh! What a night. It was his 20th birthday. Assistant State Attorney Bob Lee describes Oct. 6, 2006, in Cape Coral as the night when Johnston’s celebration of life turned into a celebration of death. It’s a night the Jamaican-born lad can’t get back — no matter how many times he replays the horrific circumstances. It’s a night that may cost Johnston his life. It’s a night you wonder if Johnston even remembers. A pal testified he’d never seen his friend so loaded. Swilled full of alcohol and popping mind-bending pills, the gun-and-knife toting Johnston directed the torture and death of Alexis Sosa, 18, and his nephew, Jeffrey Sosa, 14. Last month, Johnston lost Round 1 when he was convicted of the murders.
Today, jurors will hear closing arguments.
The past two days, defense attorneys paraded psychologists after psychiatrists after family members to the witness stand, looking to strike a sympathetic cord with jurors. Although Lee Circuit Judge Thomas Reese makes the call on life or death, he must give great weight to a jury’s recommendation — an advisory that may come today. Brener, lead lawyer, says the three psychologists painted a true picture of the mentally challenged Johnston. “My hope is that the jury doesn’t see this as some fanciful thing the defense made up, but Kemar has a lifelong brain damage,’’ Brener says. The debate over Johnston’s mental capabilities may determine life or death. Clinical psychologist Hyman Eisenstein diagnosed Johnston with frontal lobe damage, which inhibits him from making rational decisions and understanding the consequences of actions. That says it all, doc.
Johnston, who doctors say has an educational level of a 12-year-old, incurred a head injury after falling off a wall at 6. Brener faults the Lee County School District for not testing Johnston when he moved to Fort Myers as a 9-year-old and promoting him without merit. “If he’d been tested, he would have been in special education,’’ he says. Prosecutor Lee, who says tests put Johnston’s IQ at 82, asked neuroscience professor Rubin Gur on Thursday if a head injury could have happened after Johnston’s arrest in 2006. “You can’t rule that out,’’ Gur told the jury. But Brener discounted that possibility.
“The state is trying to limit the effect of the PET scan by suggesting the brain damage could have occurred after the crime was committed,’’ he says. “It’s not going to work. These are clearly developmental issues.’’ Despite Johnston’s abnormalities — which the Positron Emission Tomography revealed —Brener says his client knows what is at stake.“Kemar wants to live,’’ Brener says. “He wants to live — as any of us would.’’ Just like the Sosas he executed.