Teen bound over in stabbing death

STEUBENVILLE – A 16-year-old was bound over to the grand jury as an adult in connection with a July stabbing death during a preliminary hearing Thursday in Jefferson County Juvenile Court.

Juvenile Judge Samuel Kerr found probable cause that Jalontay Johnson was involved in the July 25 stabbing death of 17-year-old Demitrius Thomas in an alley in the rear of the 3000 block of Lawson Avenue.

Murder cases involving juveniles are automatically bound over by state law to an adult court in Ohio if a judge finds probable cause the juvenile was involved. Kerr made that ruling after hearing testimony from two witnesses Thursday and arguments from Sam Pate, assistant prosecutor, and defense attorney Steve Stickles. Kerr also ruled that Johnson would continue to be housed in the county’s juvenile detention center.

Pate argued the evidence showed Johnson was the culprit, while Stickles argued the defendant was acting in self-defense.

“If found guilty by an adult court (Johnson) could be sentenced to 15 years to life (in prison),” said Kerr before arguments and testimony.

During Thursday’s hearing, William Isaac of Steubenville testified he was in his garage repairing his lawn mower around 10:30 p.m. July 25 when, “I heard someone yell ‘help,'” he said. He proceeded to the alleyway where he didn’t see anything. He testified he again heard someone yell for help and again proceeded to the alley, and again saw nothing, he said.

“Then I heard someone yell ‘Help, he’s trying to kill me,'” said Isaac, adding he then called Jefferson County 911. “I yelled ‘Get off of him.’ I walked into the center of the alley south and saw an individual backing out of the bushes.”

Isaac said he witnessed an altercation at that time and followed the individual toward Plum Street.

“I followed the individual when I was on the phone with 911,” he said.

Isaac also said he also witnessed an individual in a white, bloody T-shirt covered in blood moving in the bushes. He testified he continued to follow the suspect onto Plum Street and then left onto Union Avenue.

On cross examination, Stickles asked Isaac if he had been drinking, to which Issac answered, “No.” Isaac also testified the street lights were working, and the individual he followed was wearing dark clothing. Isaac said although he believed the voice her heard yell for help was the same all three times, he couldn’t be 100 percent sure.

Steubenville Police Detective John Lelless then took the stand and testified police found bloody clothing on top of a garbage can in the 400 block of Union Avenue shortly after the incident. He said the suspect went to the Steubenville Police station with his uncle the day after the incident. He said Johnson gave a statement that, “He and (Thomas) were walking down the alley and (Johnson) began to stab (Thomas),” said Lelless, adding while fleeing the scene Johnson admitted to taking his clothes off.

“(Johnson) said he couldn’t remember how many times he stabbed the victim,” said Lelless.

During cross examination, Lelless said the suspect admitted he was drinking brandy and smoking marijuana shortly before the altercation. The detective said Johnson may have indicated he was acting in self-defense.

When asked about the weapon, Lelless said Johnson led police to a wooded area near State Street, where a knife with an open blade was found.

“Did Mr. Johnson admit to tossing the knife?” asked Stickles.

“Yes,” replied Lelless.

The detective testified he photographed the suspect, including wounds on his hands. He added the bloody clothing allegedly worn by the suspect the night of the stabbing had been sent to a forensics lab at the Ohio Bureau of Investigation.

During closing arguments Stickles argued the prosecution hadn’t met the burden of proof to prove murder, and that Johnson could have acted in self-defense. However, Kerr ruled there was probable cause, and Johnson would be tried in an adult court. He set Johnson’s bail at $500,000.

Michael Thomas, father of the victim, said he was he was hoping “Justice would take its course and the process to proceed.”