Snitch

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

Next on the stand: Damian Bradley. His hiding plan hadn't really worked out. On the previous Friday night, Damian stuck his head out the window to find cops approaching his home. He tried to escape out the back door, but was tackled by an officer. They rolled down the hill and both were injured.

In court, Damian wore a giant bandage over a laceration on his shoulder. While lifting up his shirt to show the jury, he grimaced. "I'm kinda sore," he said. "I can't raise my arm all the way up."

Damian is lanky and handsome, with a baby face and charming smile. Though he exudes confidence, he doesn't hide his emotions the way many hardened 20-year-olds from the projects do. Vulnerability aside, he seemed to have little respect for his mother. He told the jury that Deanna was on medications for mental issues, and couldn't be trusted.

Then he directly contradicted her testimony.

"On August 17, did Jamal Butler bring a gun to your house?" the prosecution wanted to know.

"No, sir. No, sir," Damian said.

"You told the cops he brought the gun to your house wrapped up in a green camouflage jacket," Merin continued. "You told them it was a 9-millimeter."

"I said that because they were telling me I'd never see my son again," Damian replied.

The jury viewed the taped police interrogation from November, when the cops had responded to Deanna's distress call by arresting Damian. On the portions played in court, it appears the interrogators were doing their best to terrify him. They tell him that his cellphone can be tracked, that's he's in a big pile of dog doo-doo, and that they're disappointed he's calling his mama a liar. If he doesn't talk, they say, his baby will grow up without a daddy.

Damian resists for more than an hour, and explains to the investigators what becomes of snitches. "Niggas killing your babies over this kind of shit," he says. "Niggas kill they baby mamas over this. Niggas kill they best friends over this kind of shit. ... This is not to be played with; this is some serious shit ... excuse my language."

When the investigators tell Damian his mother loves him, and that they're upset he's calling her a liar, Damian shakes his head. "She don't love me, man," he says.

"Your mama is one courageous woman," one police officer says. "And she loves you, whether you want to believe it or not. Kevin and I just spent over an hour with her, [and she was] crying about you."

"Where she go?" Damian asks. "'Cause I ain't got no ride."

Eventually Damian cracks and admits that Junk brought him the gun. He asks if he can be a confidential informant, and maintains a firm position that he cannot be involved. All he cares about is his son, he repeats over and over. He doesn't want to bring his son into this. When he finds out that the entire conversation has been recorded, he gets very quiet.

But on the stand, Damian insisted he was threatened and that he said only what the inspectors wanted to hear so they would let him leave. Finally, he broke into tears talking about his son, who died shortly after Damian's interview with the cops.

That might have moved the jury, but it apparently didn't sway its opinion of Junk. On Tuesday, May 6, before a courtroom of Junk's friends, family, baby mamas, and children, he was found guilty of second-degree murder. The jury also found him guilty of illegally possessing a deadly weapon.

On June 11, the judge will sentence him to somewhere between 60 years and life in prison.

When the verdict came in, Deanna Johnson was holed up at the police department. Because the jury had deliberated for almost a week, an acquittal or a hung jury seemed within the realm of possibility. Investigators didn't want her unprotected, especially not in Double Rock, so they had asked her to come down.

Then again, a guilty verdict wouldn't be good news for Deanna's safety, either. However things went that morning, the cops planned to try to get her into witness protection one last time. The last thing they wanted was more headlines about a witness getting whacked for coming forward.

They had a pretty solid plan.

When the investigators learned the prosecution had won, they told Deanna for the first time that she would not be able to stay in Double Rock. (Tim Larsen of the Housing Authority says this wasn't necessarily true, and that she could have gone through an appeals process.) So on the day the investigators most wanted Deanna to leave town, they made her believe she had no home to return to. She felt manipulated and used. "All I wanted was to keep my home," she said. "I feel like they played me for a fool."

She had no idea where she would go. Willie said she could live with him, but with her history of domestic violence, she wasn't interested. She had saved almost no money, and the city wouldn't help her find new housing, unless it was hundreds of miles from San Francisco. And just like that, Deanna was facing two options: homelessness or the witness protection program.

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