Life behind bars

Published 10:22 am Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Free-Lance Star

FREDERICKSBURG, VA – A man who laid in wait for more than an hour before gunning down his former lover was ordered on March 11 to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Antoine Gary Johnson, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md., received the sentence from Judge Victoria Willis at the end of a lengthy sentencing hearing in Stafford County Circuit Court.

Johnson killed 29-year-old Jeremy Brown early April 27, 2015 outside Brown’s home in southern Stafford.

Brown is a native of Gates County. In a story published by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald two days after his death, it was reported that Brown once lived on Sugar Run Road in Gates County. He graduated from Gates County High School in 2003 and pursued a career in law enforcement through classes at Elizabeth City State University.

“He interned for us while a student at ECSU,” said Randy Hathaway, Chief Deputy for the Gates County Sheriff’s Office. “I remember him telling us that when he left here that he was going to work for the FBI.”

Hathaway added that Brown previously worked as an officer at the Pasquotank County Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City.

Following his arrest in Brown’s death, Johnson pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and using a firearm in the commission of a felony. He received an additional three years in prison for the firearms conviction.

Judge Willis’ decision was announced to a standing-room-only courtroom full of supporters for both Brown and Johnson.

Brown, an FBI police officer, was ambushed and shot four times as he headed to his job at Quantico about 5 a.m. He was dead by the time rescue workers and police arrived a short time later at his home.

Johnson was stopped in King George County about 25 minutes later and made a full, taped confession to Stafford Detective Barry Surles.

Jason Buckles, an area resident, heard the shooting and called 911. Buckles reported seeing the shooter turn onto White Oak Road (State Route 218) and head toward King George.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen pointed out that Johnson had used a borrowed car and a stolen gun in carrying out the slaying. He also left his cell phone in Maryland when he made the trip to Stafford that morning so that it couldn’t be traced.

“If not for an alert citizen and excellent police work, he would have gotten away with it,” Olsen said. “We may have never known he’d even been in Stafford.”

According to the evidence, Brown and Johnson were in a romantic relationship from September 2014 until Brown broke it off in February of last year. People close to both men were unaware of the relationship.

In the interview with Surles, Johnson said the breakup was amicable at first. But Johnson said he later became angry about things he learned after the split.

“I lost my mind,” he told Surles. “I just wanted to exact revenge.”

Johnson said he borrowed a car from Cedric Mitchell in Upper Marlboro after telling him he needed it to go see a girl. Johnson said he stole the gun from a party he had attended in Maryland a number of weeks earlier.

He arrived in Stafford about 3:30 a.m. and waited for Brown to come out of his home. He knew Brown usually left for work about 5 a.m.

Johnson said he was parked about 100 feet away when Brown came out and headed for his Honda Civic. Brown got about halfway to the car when he was confronted by the armed Johnson.

Johnson said he told Brown to throw his wallet on the ground and fired his weapon after seeing Brown reach for his gun.

Prosecutors noted that Brown’s wallet was still in his back pocket at the scene and argued that Johnson was trying to stage a robbery as a cover for the planned slaying.

Brown was shot at least three times in the back as he was fleeing from the gunman. The fatal fourth shot came as Brown was lying helplessly on the ground, the evidence showed.

Brown managed to get off several shots of his own as he was dying, but Johnson was not struck.

Prosecutors Olsen and Sandra Park urged Willis to exceed the recommended state sentencing guidelines, which called for a penalty of between 23 to 38 years in prison.

“Not only was it a cold-blooded killing; it was a planned execution,” Park said.

Defense attorneys John Spencer and Price Koch agreed that the slaying was “horrific” and unjustifiable. But they pointed out the Johnson had no criminal record prior to the murder and deserved something less than life in prison.

Johnson made a statement prior to being sentenced in which he apologized to Brown’s family and his own.

He said he loved Brown more than anyone he’d ever been romantically involved with.

“My actions were uncharacteristic,” Johnson said. “If I’d had a moment of sense, this wouldn’t have happened.”