A gunman's incriminating text messages were rightfully subject to a search by law enforcement officers in a 2012 murder case, the state's top court has ruled.
The cellphone belonging to James Johnson III and the information in it was appropriately used in his August 2014 Pulaski County Circuit Court capital-murder trial, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Johnson, now 22, was one of two men involved in an attempted robbery that ended in the death of Charles Gaskins outside Gaskins' home in southwest Little Rock. Johnson argued during his trial and before the Supreme Court that the information in the affidavit filed by investigators didn't support obtaining a search warrant for his phone.
On Thursday, Justice Karen Baker wrote that detectives did enough to establish a "nexus between the homicide and the phone" to obtain a warrant in the search of Johnson's phone.
Gaskins was 50 when he was accosted by two men on his front porch one night in July 2012. He fought with the two robbers while his girlfriend ran inside and shut the door. When she returned, Gaskins had been fatally shot.
Investigators were led to Johnson and another man, Donte Davis, and the pair were arrested later that day.
Officers confiscated the gun used in the killing as well as Johnson's phone, which was stored into evidence.
The phone was held in evidence for two years before officers obtained a warrant to search the phone's contents.
In it, they found a text message sent from Johnson that stated: "So ima go my own route if they ketch me on this here charge im gone fa life."
They also found that Johnson had read a news article about the murder on his phone.
At trial and before the Supreme Court, Johnson claimed the evidence from the phone should have been voided because the warrant was obtained on an affidavit that did not demonstrate any reasonable belief that it contained evidence of Gaskins' slaying.
The lower court and the Supreme Court disagreed. Baker wrote that detectives did enough to demonstrate cause and the information was rightly included in court.
"Because Johnson was working with at least one other person when the homicide was committed, it is reasonable to infer that the cell phone that was in his possession was used to communicate with others regarding the shootings before, during, or after they occurred," Baker wrote. "It is reasonable to infer that the cell phone in Johnson's possession at the time of his arrest was used to communicate with some third party regarding his involvement in the homicide."
Johnson is serving his life sentence without parole at a state facility in Marianna. Davis, who was convicted of first-degree murder, is at a facility in Brickeys. He will be eligible for parole in 2033.
Metro on 11/01/2015
Print Headline: Cellphone findings in '12 case rightfully used, justices rule