Snitch

Deanna Johnson testified against a murderer to save her son. But in the projects, truth comes at a price.

He refused. "I can't get involved," he told her. "What you are doing is hazardous to your health."

Damian was right. Just recently, a bullet had pierced Deanna's living-room window, and Willie's tires had been slashed. Maybe coincidences, maybe not. Investigators had urged both Deanna and Damian to sign up for witness protection, but they repeatedly resisted. The possibility of relocating to Sacramento was getting thrown around a lot, and neither had interest in moving far from everything and everyone they knew. Deanna was willing to try somewhere like Treasure Island. Or maybe go back to Potrero Hill. But Sacramento? No way.

On each day of the murder trial, Junk had an attentive audience. On important days, there were as many as 15 people on his side of the courtroom, including his mother, aunt, three of his babies' mamas, two of his six children, and plenty of friends. In the intermissions, they'd all smile and wave.

Nobody from Tigaboo's family showed up.

On the first day Deanna Johnson took the stand, Willie came to support her. Five of Junk's devotees, including his mother, glared at Deanna as she slowly made her way to the stand. To them, Deanna was a liar and a drug addict. She was doing all this, Junk's aunt speculated, because she simply did not like Junk.

Deanna is not what the district attorney would call an ideal witness. In 2005, she pled guilty to assault, attempted robbery, and illegal possession of tear gas. (It was illegal because she had previously been convicted of several felonies.) She takes Seroquel for bipolar disorder, and though she says she's off heroin and crack, her son told investigators in November that Deanna had smoked crack recently. Her memory, she admits, is not very good.

But there Deanna sat, a reluctant yet key witness in an all-too-infrequent Double Rock murder trial.

Assistant district attorney Merin began his examination with simple questions. Was Jamal Butler in the courtroom?

"He's sitting right there," Deanna said, pointing at Junk. But he looked different than he had on the day of the murder. Short, tight coils replaced his dreads. Instead of camouflage, he wore a smart black suit and an electric-blue button-down shirt, though he seemed ill at ease in it. On several occasions, Junk loosened his collar and dusted off his sleeves, though they were perfectly clean.

After a few basic questions about Deanna's family, Merin drew her family tree on the chalkboard. He then asked her to identify photographs of the inside of her closet and the view from her window.

That's when Junk's eyebrows shot up and his lips crept into a tight smirk that seemed to say, how dare you.

Though Deanna was shaky on the stand, she essentially told the same story she had from day one: Junk brought a murder weapon to her house. He bragged that he killed a guy. She had come forward to protect her son.

The cross-examination didn't go as smoothly. Over the course of all the questioning, Deanna had given three versions of where she was when the gun went off: in her bed, at her window, and on her back porch. Her recollection of who was in her house that morning also varied. She told investigators that Lil' Carl and Damian's girlfriend, Tiffanie, were in the house, but on the stand she said they weren't. In separate statements, Deanna said she remembered being in two different places when she watched Junk leave her home for the second time.

Defense attorney Floyd Andrews didn't let those inconsistencies slide. He frustrated Deanna by pointing out her memory lapses, but she kept it together: "I'm not good with times and dates, but I know what I saw," she told the jury without being asked.

The most compelling portion of Deanna's testimony was her recorded phone calls to the Housing Authority tip line. Because she made those calls before she was evicted, that ruled out the possibility that Deanna was lying to keep her home. "What have you gotten out of testifying?" Merin asked.

"Nothing," Deanna said flatly.

When Pumpkin — who had been brought down from San Quentin — was called to the stand, an eerie silence enveloped the courtroom. In the docket, Pumpkin was listed as a "hostile witness." As minutes ticked by, the judges, lawyers, and cops whispered to each other, as did Junk's family members. Junk folded his hands in front of him in what looked like prayer.

The first signs of Pumpkin were the clinks of his chains in the hall. Then, in a flurry of orange jangling, he took the stand. In prison attire, his short, round body matched his moniker; he sported light facial hair and a rattail. He looked directly at the floor and refused to take his oath. Judge Carol Yaggy advised the court that Pumpkin had taken the oath that morning, and asked the prosecutor to begin his questioning.

"Mr. Priestly, do you understand why you are here?" Merin began.

No answer.

"Where were you on the morning of August 17?"

Nothing.

"Could you please look at me?"

Nope.

Pumpkin was ordered to answer the questions, but refused. He was then found in contempt of court and shown out. The jury would never hear about how, after the cops found him at Deanna's home, Pumpkin was arrested and interrogated. According to police department transcripts, during the three-hour interrogation Pumpkin broke down crying and admitted that he watched Junk kill Tigaboo.

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