The third day of trial began with Amy Beavers, Des Moines County Attorney, reading the official charge of Murder in the 1st Degree against Jorge Sanders-Galvez, 23, of Missouri and then informing the court of his previous plea of not guilty. Sanders-Galvez is accused of killing Kedarie Johnson, 16, of Burlington in March 2016.
Then the focus turned to Christopher Perras, who stood behind a wooden podium facing the jury. Perras is a federal hate crime lawyer assigned, by the U.S. Department of Justice, to assist with the prosecution of Sanders-Galvez.
Perras delivered the opening statement for the prosecution, laying out its case over 25-minutes. The jurors were not allowed to take notes as Perras spoke because the court does not consider an opening statement to be evidence in the case.
**The statement includes graphic details about the death of Kedarie Johnson and language some might find inappropriate**
Perras described Johnson as pretty-much a normal high school kid.
“He went to school, he had a part-time job, he spent most of his free-time goofing around Facebook and texting his friends,” said Perras. “And like seemingly every high school kid, Kedarie bickered with his mom about keeping his room clean.”
Perras told the jury that Johnson was a frequent visitor to an after school facility run by a local church, even volunteering to teach a dance class to younger kids. But he said there was one thing that was different about Johnson, compared to other kids.
“Kedarie was a boy, but sometimes, he liked to dress like a girl,” said Perras. “You will hear that he even had picked out a female name for himself: Kandice. A lot of people thought that was pretty weird. And when Kedarie first started doing it, he had his fair share of teasing around the school, but Kedarie did not let that affect him because for him, for some reason, it just felt right.”
Perras said the people that loved Johnson accepted him for who he was, as did the entire community. He said Johnson had a bright future…
“But that future was stolen from him,” said Perras. “On March 2 of last year, Kedarie Johnson was kidnapped, suffocated and then executed.”
Johnson’s body was found in an alley near 4th and Walnut. He had a plastic bag wrapped around his head and he had been shot twice in the chest.
Perras said during his opening statement that two men were responsible for the murder of Johnson: Sanders-Galvez and his cousin, Jaron Purham, 25, also of Missouri. Purham, like Sanders-Galvez, is also charged with 1st Degree Murder. He is currently behind bars in Missouri.
Perras said Purham would be tried separately to ensure a fair trial for both men.
“During this trial, you will hear that [Sanders-Galvez] and Jaron shot and killed Kedarie,” said Perras to the jury. “Afterward, they took steps to conceal their crime. They doused Kedarie’s body with bleach so there would not be any DNA evidence. Later that night, they asked a friend to hold onto the murder weapon, that rare .357 caliber revolver. But despite those and other efforts by the defendants, they left behind a trial of evidence that would eventually lead to their capture.”
Perras said that Sanders-Galvez and Purham were driving around in a red Chevy Impala on March 2, 2016 when they stopped at a home with a pair of acquaintances. He said Sanders-Galvez was carry a chrome-plated, .357-calibar, six-shot revolver that Perras referred to as the “Cowboy Gun.”
Perras said the quartet sat around listening to music until 9:30 p.m. He said that’s when Sanders-Galvez and Purham went to the nearby HyVee grocery store to get some food for the group.
Johnson was at the store at the time, dressed like a girl, wearing black leggings, hair extensions, a pink headband, and pink fingernails.
“The defendant and Jaron were in the store together with Kedarie for a total of 20 minutes, enough time for them to notice a cute high school girl all by herself,” said Perras.
Perras said Johnson left the grocery store, alone, at 10:04 p.m. He was going to a friend’s house nearby to borrow some bras. Perras said the store’s surveillance cameras picked up Sanders-Galvez and Purham approaching Johnson in their car as he walked across the parking lot.
Perras said Johnson eventually arrived at his friend’s home. He said when Johnson walked inside, he told his friend that “Lumni is following me. He’s in a red car.” Sanders-Galvez also went by “Lumni.”
Perras said Johnson and his friend looked outside and saw the red car. He said despite that, Johnson eventually left the house, which is the last time any witnesses saw him alive.
Perras said, prior to shooting Johnson, the two cousins picked him up outside his friend’s home and drove him to 2610 Madison Avenue, where they had been staying for the previous few days. He said that’s where Sanders-Galvez and Purham would take girls to have sex, either separately or together.
“Why would two tough guys in their twenties pick up a gay high school kid to hang out with,” Perras asked the jury. “To understand that, you are going to want to pay close attention to two things: how Kedarie Johnson was dressed that night and what the defendant and Jaron liked to do at 2610 Madison.”
Perras said the home provided a second crime scene, along with the alley where Johnson’s body was found. He said inside the home were Johnson’s shoes, his backpack, his computer, his school ID and the bras he got from his friend.
Perras said it’s unclear how the encounter between Johnson, Sanders-Galvez and Purham.
“It was clear that there had been a struggle. The blue bedsheet had been ripped. The blue fibers from that bedsheet were all over the floor, the same kind of blue fibers that the coroner found on Kedarie Johnson’s body. But it wasn’t just fibers.”
Perras said it is clear how it ended.
“It ended with a plastic bag shoved down Kedarie’s throat and another plastic bag wrapped tightly around his head,” said Perras. “It ended with Kedarie struggling to breath, struggling so hard that the blood vessels in his eyeballs burst. It ended with Kedarie suffering.”
Perras said the cousins threw Johnson in a car, dumped him in an alley and shot him twice. He said afterwards that Sanders-Galvez gave the “Cowboy Gun” to a friend and drove off with Purham. He eventually returned to get the gun.
Perras said the investigation into the death of Kedarie Johnson eventually led officers to Sanders-Galvez and Purham. He said they were arrested separately, during which, investigators secured the gun that Perras said was used to kill Johnson, the vehicle they were driving in on March 2, 2016, and Sanders-Galvez’s cell phone, which Perras said had incriminating texts, Facebook messages, and internet searches about the shooting.
“It’s too late to bring Kedarie back, but it’s not too late to bring his killers to justice,” said Perras to the jury before concluding his opening statement.
Defense Attorney Curtis Dial was given the option to make an opening statement on behalf of Sanders-Galvez after Perras completed his statement. Dial declined, opting to make a statement after the prosecution rests its case.
With that, the state began calling witnesses. The first two were friends of Johnson: Tremell, 17, and Amari, 16. They both spent time with Johnson on March 2, 2016, hours before his death.
Tremell said Johnson and he were “good friends, best friends.” He was asked if he had any problem with Johnson dressing as a girl sometimes.
“It never bothered me because that’s who he was and what he wanted to do,” said Tremell. “He was treated just like any other kid at school.”
Tremell said they spent the afternoon together, eventually going to HyVee at about 7:00 p.m. He said he and Johnson left about 8:20 so that Tremell could be home in time for curfew. Tremell said Johnson went back to HyVee because he left his backpack and computer there.
Amari said Johnson showed up at her house late on March 2, 2016 to pick up four bras she could not wear anymore. Amari said when Johnson arrived, he told her that “Lumni was following him.” She said they looked outside and saw a red car.
Amari said they hung out for a while and when Johnson left, “he was smiling way bigger than he was when he walked in the house,” because of the bras. She said she asked if Johnson would like a ride home. He declined the offer.
During cross-examination, Amari clarified that the red car was gone before Johnson left her house.
The state also called to the stand on Thursday a woman who called police after hearing shots fired near the alley where Johnson’s body was found, the officer who found Johnson’s body on March 2, 2016 and the lead investigator in the case.
The prosecution will continue its case Friday morning.