Guilty verdict returned in attempted murder case

STEUBENVILLE – Antonio “Smiley” Johnson, 23, of Steubenville will be back in a Jefferson County Common Pleas Courtroom at 11 a.m. Monday for a sentencing after a jury convicted him Thursday of attempted murder and other charges in connection with him shooting at two men on Pleasant Heights on July 2.

Johnson also is scheduled to be back before Common Pleas Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. in the same courtroom on Tuesday for the start of his next trial, this time a charge of escape for not reporting to his parole officer. A third trial on two drug trafficking charges is scheduled to start on Feb. 19.

The jury deliberated about three and one-half hours before returning with their verdicts.

Johnson was found guilty of attempted murder and felonious assault. Each of those charges had specifications of Johnson committing the crimes while having a firearm, participating in a criminal gang and firing a gun from a motor vehicle. He also was found guilty of having a weapon as a convicted felon and improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle.

According to testimony at trial, two women and three men were driving from the Labelle section to Pleasant Heights and drove past Johnson’s vehicle on the Lawson Avenue bridge. Johnson turned his vehicle around and followed the other vehicle.

The vehicle with five occupants parked on Orchard Avenue and two of the men got out. Johnson got out of his vehicle and pulled out an assault rifle and fired 17 shots at the men, according the county Prosecutor Jane Hanlin.

Da’Lesha Thorn of Steubenville testified she was a passenger in the vehicle, which included Tristen Hampton, the driver, and Stedmund C. Creech, 23, of Steubenville, Rolland K. Owens, 22, of Wintersville, and a man only known as C.J. Thorn said she saw Johnson pass their vehicle on Lawson Avenue. She said Johnson’s vehicle pulled up behind their vehicle on Orchard Avenue.

Thorn said Johnson got out of his car, stood behind the open driver’s door and pulled out a “shotgun,” which really was an assault rifle.

She identified Johnson in the courtroom during her testimony on Tuesday, the first day of the trial.

Thorn said Owens and C.J. got out of their vehicle and that is when the shooting began.

Thorn said she was interviewed by police and she picked Johnson’s picture out of a photo lineup.

Hanlin said shots were returned by one person in the Hampton vehicle, which hit the windshield of Johnson’s vehicle.

The county prosecutor’s office offered 12 years in prison to resolve all the cases if Johnson pleaded guilty. He rejected the plea offer and told Bruzzese he wanted to go to trial.

Bruzzese told Hanlin and Johnson’s defense attorney, Steven Stickles, to attempt to work out a deal prior on the other two pending trials prior to sentencing on Monday.

Hanlin said the verdict Thursday “says the citizens of Jefferson County take very seriously gun and gang violence and want to see it end.”

Hanlin said Johnson had gang tattoos on his body and also sent text messages that included gang language. She said Creech is a member of a rival gang in the city.

Stickles said Johnson maintains his innocence and will appeal the verdict. He declined any further comment because of the pending appeal.

Creech and Owens were indicted in connection with the case.

Creech was indicted on three counts of having a weapon as a convicted felon and single counts of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and carrying a concealed weapon. Creech is still wanted by law enforcement.

Owens was indicted on single counts of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and carrying a concealed weapon. His trial is pending.