Thursday, September 27, 2001

Conviction reinstated in 3-year-old's death

Girl fatally shot during gang dispute

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court reinstated a man's conviction and sentence Wednesday in the shooting death of a 3-year-old girl during a gang dispute.

        Ruling 4-3, the court reversed a decision of the 7th Ohio District Court of Appeals in the case of Leslie Johnson of Youngstown.

        Mr. Johnson, 25, was convicted of complicity to commit aggravated murder after Jessica Ballew was killed in Youngstown in 1996 as Crips gang members were hunting for a member of a rival gang.

        He was sentenced to at least 23 years in prison, according to Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains.

        Mr. Johnson has been held without bond pending the Supreme Court decision.

        The appeals court had ruled that Mr. Johnson, who did not fire the gun, had not assisted the gunman enough to warrant the conviction.

        The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that Mr. Johnson was an active member of the Crips gang and had many opportunities to avoid participating in the search for a Bloods gang member named “Boom.”

        Jessica was killed when Crips member Sidney Cornwell opened fire on people who apparently knew Boom. Mr. Cornwell was sentenced to death.

        Mr. Johnson “was not an innocent bystander who was merely along for the ride,” said Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, writing for the majority.

        “In fact, he intended to assist with the murder of Boom.”

        Justice Paul Pfeifer, writing for the minority, said the prosecution failed to produce evidence that Mr. Johnson participated in the crime.


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