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Former CHP officer accused in husband's death reenacts struggle for gun

Tomiekia Johnson testifies that the shooting occurred during an argument at the side of the road on the way home from a restaurant.

January 14, 2012|By Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times

Former California Highway Patrol Officer Tomiekia Johnson, charged with killing her husband more than two years ago, tearfully testified Friday that she and Marcus Lemons were struggling over her gun when it accidentally went off.

"I was not trying to kill Marcus. I would never try to hurt him," she said, weeping. "He always hit me."

Johnson took the stand on the fourth day of her trial. She is accused of fatally shooting her husband in the head on the night of Feb. 21, 2009, as they argued on the side of a road in Compton.

The couple were having drinks at a restaurant when they got into an argument, Johnson told the jury. She testified that she took the keys and started driving home, "blocking him out" as Lemons continued to yell at her in the car.

"When I continued to ignore him, he reached over and grabbed my neck," she said.

She pulled off the 91 Freeway and told him to walk home. He "snatched" the keys out of the ignition, she said, and a struggle over her purse ensued. "I think he wanted my purse for the gun in the purse," she said.

Prosecutors have argued that the shooting was far from an accident. Forensic evidence and testimony from crime scene experts show that Johnson fired an intentional contact shot, prosecutors said.

Earlier in the trial, witnesses portrayed Johnson as a wife with an aggressive personality and a tendency to drink excessively. Her husband was described as a peaceful man, a popular barber and a well-known amateur bowler.

Friends of Lemons shook their heads, rolled their eyes and whispered to one another as Johnson answered questions about the couple's tumultuous relationship. Lemons' family members, sitting in one corner of the courtroom, observed stoically.

Johnson's family, sitting in the front row, held one another's hands and listened quietly.

During Johnson's testimony, her attorney, Darryl A. Stallworth, asked her to step down from the witness stand and reenact the scene. Stallworth sat in a chair, playing the role of Lemons in the passenger seat. Johnson positioned herself where she was standing that night, fighting for the gun on the ground.

Both hands gripping tightly to the edges of her gray suit blazer while Stallworth explained the scene, Johnson told the jury: "I just got down, picked up the gun, came up really fast — holding it tight because I thought he was going to take it from me.

"And it just fired," she said through tears.

She said she didn't feel the gun go off, that she didn't even know she had shot him at first.

"I saw his body, just like he was having a seizure, and then he threw up," she said, sobbing. "I couldn't believe it. I just stood there frozen for a second. I couldn't think."

At the end of the court day, prosecutors began to cross-examine Johnson. She calmly answered questions about her personality and her relationships with her family.

She began to cry when Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Natalie Adomian started reading back journal entries Johnson had written after her husband's death, entries that were shared with a post-traumatic stress therapist Johnson was seeing. Prosecutors noted inconsistencies in what Johnson wrote and her testimony.

Adomian asked Johnson to recall nights that she was abused by Lemons. Johnson described the fighting, and Adomian questioned why she did not hit back, considering that she had been trained at work to counter assaults by suspects.

"Ma'am, my husband wasn't a suspect," Johnson said, her voice breaking. "He was my husband. I wasn't thinking about tactics from work. I was scared."

Prosecutors plan to continue cross-examination when the trial resumes Tuesday.

rosanna.xia@latimes.com

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