Phillips guilty of second degree murder in shooting death of Charleston police officer Cassie Johnson

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Kanawha County jury returned a guilty verdict on the charge of second degree murder in the case of Joshua Phillips Monday afternoon in the December 2020 shooting death of Charleston police officer Cassie Johnson.

The panel deliberated for parts of three days before announcing its verdict Monday afternoon. The jury also found Phillips guilty of a simple drug possession charge.

Joshua Phillips

Prosecutors pushed for a first degree murder conviction where Phillips would have faced life in prison. He’ll now face 10-40 years in prison for second degree murder.

Johnson’s family was inside the courtroom for the verdict. They declined to make a statement following the verdict but the officer’s mother told a victim’s advocate she was “speechless.”

Charleston Police Chief James “Tyke” Hunt told the media that the verdict was not the one his department had hoped for in the case.

“The verdict handed down today is not the verdict the Charleston Police Department wanted and hoped for,” Hunt said. “The jurors made a decision on the information they had and it’s our job as law enforcement to trust in the justice system.

“We will not let our fallen sister’s death be in vain,” he continued. “We’re going to continue her good works, we’ll continue to get out here and do everything we can to honor her and memorialize her service to this city.”

In a statement released shortly after the verdict, Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said, “Since the moment when I arrived at the hospital the evening that Patrol Officer Cassie Johnson was fatally shot, my heart has been with Cassie’s mom, Sheryl; her sister, Chelsea; and her brothers and sisters in blue at the Charleston Police Department.

Officer Cassie Johnson

“It has been a painful journey – not only for Cassie’s family and friends – but also for our community. While this was not the verdict we had hoped for, I hope today’s decision by the jury brings some level of peace and closure.”

The only question the jury asked during its three days of deliberating the case was for an additional laptop computer to view the video of the altercation between Phillips and Johnson on Garrison Avenue in Charleston on Dec. 1, 2020. Officer Johnson was dispatched there to answer a parking complaint.

The defense maintained the shooting was self-defense and was not premediated, a component that’s required to find a person guilty of first-degree murder. The prosecution spent time during the trial explaining that premeditation didn’t have to be a long period of time. The jury opted for second degree murder which does not require premeditation.

Outside of the courtroom following the verdict, Phillips’ mother Delores Phillips and step-father David Nuckols were emotional.

“It was horrible for both sides,” they said of the trial. “I have sympathy for her and we feel for their family.”

Additionally, Phillips’ family called the trial ‘unfair,’ citing evidence shown during the trial. Delores Phillips said her son should not have been found guilty of second-degree murder and added that he was ‘just defending himself.’ Phillips was shot several times by Johnson during the altercation.

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.

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. Phillips did not testify on his own behalf.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey will sentence Phillips at a later date.

MetroNews’ Jake Flatley, Jeff Jenkins and Carrie Hodousek contributed to this story

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