Jury continues deliberating case involving Charleston police officer shooting death

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There has been very little movement in deliberations since the jury in the Joshua Phillips murder trial was handed the case.

The jury returned to Kanawha County Circuit Court Monday to continue discussing evidence. Deliberations started Thursday afternoon.

Joshua Phillips

Phillips, 39, has been on trial since last Monday for first degree murder in connection with the Dec. 2020 shooting death of Charleston Police Officer Cassie Johnson. Phillips also faces a drug possession with intent to deliver charge.

On Friday, the jury requested a second laptop to review evidence. Judge Jennifer Bailey sent them home at around 6:30 p.m. after they put in long hours. She said the jury wasn’t deadlocked and that they were just tired.

The judge could read an Allen charge if the jury cannot reach a verdict, which encourages them to make a decision.

On the murder charge, the jury has a few options to consider: guilty of first degree murder, guilty of second degree murder, guilty of voluntary manslaughter or not guilty.

Phillips has claimed self-defense in the shooting which took place on Garrison Avenue.

Officer Johnson was responding to a parking complaint when she approached Phillips about moving his red Dodge Durango. Johnson also became suspicious of Phillips purchasing drugs from a nearby house. The two got into a heated exchange before shots rang out.

The incident was captured on Johnson’s body camera and dashboard camera from her police cruiser. The footage was presented to the jury last week.

The jury also viewed cell phone video taken by Charleston resident Michael Oesterreicher that showed Johnson laying face down in the ground after being shot.

Much of last week’s testimony came from Charleston police officers who described bullet casings found at the scene and doctors who discussed Johnson’s condition when she arrived at the hospital. She died two days later.

Officer Cassie Johnson

State Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Allen Mock said Johnson died of a single gunshot wound to the neck. The gunshot lead to excessive bleeding and significant damage to her spinal cord.

Defense attorneys John Sullivan and Ronni Sheets said during closing arguments Phillips feared for his life, but Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutors Don Morris and Michele Drummond said Phillips resisted arrest and “feared going to jail.”

Additional body camera footage from Cpl. Brandon Rinehart showed officers pinning Phillips down while they punched and kicked him. Rinehart testified it was “to gain more control” since Phillips failed to comply with their commands.

Phillips’ attorneys claim Officer Johnson was “the first aggressor.” The prosecution believes Johnson was just trying to do her job as a police officer.

The defense said there’s no evidence that shows Phillips was a drug dealer. Photos presented to the jury last week showed Phillips had 63 Klonopin pills in his pants pocket at the time of the shooting. The jury will also need to decide if Phillips is guilty of intending to deliver those drugs.

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