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Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Those are the verdicts the jury responded with in the murder trial held last week in Barnwell.
Ronald Cromwell Jr. was found not guilty on all charges in the death of Nathan Johnson. Cromwell faced charges of murder, voluntary manslaughter as well as involuntary manslaughter.
It was a legal battle between prosecutors and defense attorneys which began Monday afternoon and ended with jurors finding Cromwell not guilty.
The case included twists and turns, many of which seemed to emulate the events of Aug. 24 and 25, 2012, the night of the murder.
The case also included allowing alternate jurors to be in on the original deliberating.
There is no doubt, someone killed Nathan Johnson. The unraveling of the secrets in this case left many unanswered questions.
On the defense’s side, attorneys pointed to what they deemed as inept police investigations, lack of evidence, and a kind of secret protection of those who “belonged” at Ramblewood.
A night of socializing ends in death
It was a normal Friday night at Ramblewood Trailer park with friends and relatives gathering between two houses, “socializing” with music and alcohol.
Nathan Johnson was one of those in attendance.
Nathan was at Joe Holman’s house with others and according to witnesses, he drank from an alcohol bottle that was not his. This created some tension between Nathan and Joe Holman, and Holman ended the tension by telling Nathan to leave his house and to not come back.
Things settled and everyone went back to socializing.
Nathan went to another house in the trailer park, one just across the street. He stayed there for a while, then walked away.
From this point, details seem more fuzzy.
Joe Holman told police several different stories as to what he actually saw but it seemed everyone agreed Nathan was found beaten in the road.
Joe Holman told police when he came around a parked vehicle he saw Nathan on the ground and Cromwell on top of him hitting him.
In court, Joe Holman said when he first saw the two fighting; Cromwell was picking Nathan up and body slamming him then began hitting him.
There was a second witness, Joseph Williams. Williams said he was the one who pulled Cromwell off of Nathan. He said he knew it was Cromwell because of a scar on the back of his head. He said he saw the scar when he was pulling him off of Nathan.
However, during a courtroom demonstration, he could not find a scar on the back of the defendant’s head.
Cromwell was an “outsider”, being new to the area, and defense attorney Lauren Williams said the belief of some at Ramblewood is, “Strangers don’t get protected.”
According to testimony, while Nathan lay bleeding in the road, Joe Holman and others gathered, Holman even taking time to take some pictures with his cell phone and try to take a video of the man while laughing at the situation.
At some point, Nathan was dragged by someone into Joe Holman’s yard and left in a mud puddle.
After people began to gather, another attendee at the party, Ebony, yelled for someone to call 9-1-1.
Joe Holman “finally” called 9-1-1, she said on the witness stand.
Joe Homan told dispatch that someone had been hit by a car, instead of telling them someone had been beaten.
One witness, Tamara, said she saw Joe Holman kicking towards Nathan.
The first officer on the scene, Sgt. Calvin Coach, said his priority was to help the victim until a medical unit arrived. He said on the witness stand he did not secure the scene.
Once the medics arrived, he collected the clothes Nathan was wearing as medics cut them away.
He put the clothes into a trash bag together.
Even after the investigator, then Det. Glenn Rice, arrived, no one secured the scene to keep people from walking over evidence, attorney Lauren Williams said.
According to court testimony, no DNA was tested from the victim’s clothes nor was any collected from any witnesses.
And almost no one talked.
Police did not interview anyone that night. One attendee did write a statement.
Rice did interview Joe Holman the next day. Rice testified Joe Holman was a suspect at the time. He would be the only witness that police would interview before getting arrest warrants and arresting Cromwell the following Monday.
Police would not interview anyone else for about four months.
Assistant Solicitor Suzie Ringler questioned forensic pathologist Dr. Janet Ross who performed the autopsy on Nathan Johnson about the injuries she observed.
Ross said Nathan Johnson suffered fractures to his cheeks, his nose was fractured and his maxilla was broken. The maxilla is a skull bone which forms the roof of the mouth.
Nathan Johnson also had significant swelling all over his face, she said.
Ross, who said she has completed more than 6,000 autopsies in her 37-year career, said she had only seen a fractured maxilla twice before.
“It takes a significant force to fracture that bone,” she said.
She testified that if someone caused that type fracture with their bare fist, the fist would be damaged, possibly bruised and cut.
No weapon was recovered from the scene.
After the verdict was read, defense attorney Lauren Williams said, “I’ve been doing this (criminal defense) for 12 years. It’s verdicts like this that renew my faith in the system.”
Any result the law firm may achieve on behalf of one client in one matter does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients.