Montgomery killer sentenced to life for murder over gambling los - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Montgomery killer sentenced to life for murder over gambling loss

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Willie Johnson (Source: Montgomery Police Dept.) Willie Johnson (Source: Montgomery Police Dept.)
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

A man convicted in connection with a deadly shooting at a house party in Montgomery has been sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

Willie Johnson, 35, was found guilty of murder in May and was sentenced Wednesday. 

The fatal shooting happened on May 23, 2013 at 1014 Early Street. Johnson and the victim, Courtney Lawery, 24, of Montgomery, were at a friend's house for a backyard get together. Around 15-20 people were at the gathering and some were gambling.

Prosecutors say Johnson got angry over losing and left for about 20 minutes. When he returned, he slapped Lawery and shot him with a .40 caliber handgun. Lawery put his hand up in a defensive motion and the bullet broke off into pieces when it struck his wrist, the fragments entering his chest and causing fatal damage to his internal organs.

Lawery tried to run away after he was shot and made it 40 feet before he collapsed and died. His death marked the 25th homicide in Montgomery in 2013. The city saw 50 for the entire year. 

Willie Johnson was arrested by the United State Marshal's Service after he had removed his license plate from his car in an attempt to elude authorities and was found hiding in a closet. His original bond was set at $75,000 and due to his attempts to conceal his identity and hide, prosecutors asked that his bond be increased to $125,000 which was granted. Johnson still managed to post bond and was out of jail and awaiting trial. 

His trial was originally set to start in March and Johnson showed up in court but managed to quietly walk out of the courtroom, forcing the Marshal's Service to track him down again. A month later, he was found hiding in an attic and his bond was revoked. 

His murder trial got underway Monday. Two witnesses from the party where among those who took the stand to testify. The jury deliberated for about two hours before delivering their guilty verdict Wednesday. 

"The jury was focused. They had to deal with some complex issues including intent and I think we get good results when jurors pay attention and focus down on the issues and in this case, that allowed them to come to what I believe was the correct decision. We're very pleased, the family is pleased," said Deputy District Attorney Scott Green. 

Due to a previous assault conviction and two previous drug convictions, Willie Johnson faces a sentence of life in prison or life in prison without parole. His sentencing is set for June 16th. 

Johnson maintained that the shooting was an accident and that there was an argument over the ownership of the gun and a struggle during which Lawery was shot. 

The county's Violent Crimes Unit helped handle the case. The unit is comprised of several deputy district attorneys and a dedicated investigator. Its formation late last year was the result of the 50 homicides in 2013. The District Attorney's Office received approval from the county commission for an additional prosecutor to help handle the case load. 

"The Violent Crimes Unit with the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office has been instrumental in prosecuting these sorts of crimes- murders and high profile robberies and the results are paying off and part of that is due to an unprecedented closeness with the Montgomery Police Department and we're getting positive results," said Wes Shaw, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Johnson's case. 

Since Daryl Bailey took office in February, there's been a new process in place at the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office when it comes to investigating murders. So far, there have been nine murders in the city in 2014, four of which have happened in the past week.

"In the past, we were on the back end of crime and what I mean by that, is when a murder occurred, we would not see the case until about a year or so down the road and by that time, everything had already happened- the investigation was complete and we were given the information after everything was wrapped up. What I have done is implemented a policy that now when a homicide occurs, one of my investigators is one of the first persons that is called and we are actually sending a seasoned investigator out to the homicide scene with the sheer purpose of assisting the Montgomery Police Department and law enforcement in anything that they might need," Bailey said. 

The investigator assists with the scene and reports back to the prosecutors that will handle the case and tells them about what the investigation entails.  

"At that point, we then work with the Montgomery Police Department with the investigation so we're in it on the front end as opposed as waiting to the back end of the case. We believe this is going to pay huge dividends in the future for these cases," Bailey added. 

He told WSFA that his office has more than 130 death cases pending. 

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