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Originally published November 16, 2011 at 9:42 PM | Page modified November 16, 2011 at 9:22 PM

After victim dies, county re-examines 1998 shooting case

A King County deputy prosecutor and sheriff's detectives are reviewing the 1998 shooting of Lakessha Johnson, who died last week almost 13 years after she was paralyzed by a bullet that severed her spinal cord.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A King County deputy prosecutor and sheriff's detectives are reviewing the 1998 shooting of Lakessha Johnson, who died last week almost 13 years after she was paralyzed by a bullet that severed her spinal cord.

Johnson's death was ruled a homicide Monday by the King County Medical Examiner's Office, which listed the cause as multiple chronic infected pressure ulcers due to the gunshot wound that transected her spinal cord in 1998.

The man who shot her, Ronnie Deshaun Brown, was originally charged with assault, but pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm and a misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment for the shooting. He served about two years in prison, court records show.

Brown — who is now 33 and serving a 14-year prison sentence for an unrelated carjacking and robbery — could face additional charges now that Johnson has died.

"We have to do a legal and factual analysis of the case to determine if any additional legal charge could be pursued, and we have to look at the issue of double jeopardy," said Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. Double jeopardy refers to the legal rule that arises from the Fifth Amendment and bars a defendant from being prosecuted on similar charges after an acquittal or conviction.

Johnson, 34, was found dead in her Kent home on Nov. 8, according to police. Johnson has two teenage children, the records say.

Efforts to locate her relatives Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Court records paint a picture of a transient, troubled life for Johnson, who was arrested several times, as a juvenile and an adult, and who was evicted from apartments in Des Moines and Federal Way.

Her last felony criminal case, a drug charge filed in 2005, was never resolved, court records show. The defense attorney who took over the case in 2009 declined to answer questions Wednesday, saying ethics rules barred her from discussing Johnson.

Johnson and her boyfriend had spent the evening of Nov. 28, 1998, bowling with friends in Skyway, according to court records. Just before midnight, Brown asked if he could get a ride home with the couple, who agreed to give him a lift, the records say. Johnson was in the front passenger seat, with Brown seated behind her.

As Johnson's boyfriend began driving through the parking lot, a gunshot went off inside the car and "Johnson immediately became numb from her waist down," court records say.

Her boyfriend stopped the car and ran to a security guard, an off-duty King County sheriff's deputy, who summoned help.

The deputy attempted to detain Brown, who dropped a gun to the pavement as he tried to run off, court papers say. He was apprehended and a magazine clip was found in his pocket.

A small hole was also found in Johnson's car seat, consistent with a bullet passing through it from the rear, court papers say.

At the time, Johnson was 21, had two young children, and was in the first trimester of a pregnancy, court documents say. Paralyzed from the waist down, Johnson spent 2 ½ weeks at Harborview Medical Center, followed by another month in a rehabilitation center.

Prosecutors originally charged Brown with second-degree assault.

In February 1999, the charges were upgraded to first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and a first-degree firearms violation, court records show. But a month later, Brown entered a plea agreement, pleading guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm and reckless endangerment.

Court records show he pleaded guilty to take advantage of the plea agreement, which carried a significantly lower punishment. Brown also was ordered to pay more than $113,000 in restitution, the records say.

In July 2000, a Seattle police officer pulled Johnson over for a traffic infraction and found a .22-caliber handgun and ammunition hidden in her Chevrolet Malibu, court records say. She had several outstanding warrants and was arrested.

The next month, she pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm, according to court records.

Her public defender in the case wrote in a court filing that Johnson suffered bouts of depression, as well as nightmares and flashbacks, as a result of the 1998 shooting. Johnson "had a gun at the time of arrest to protect herself, to help maintain some sense of security" because word on the street was that Brown and his girlfriend wanted revenge because Brown had been sent off to prison.

At the time, Johnson needed surgery "due to a complication from the shooting," a large pressure ulcer over her right hip bone, court records say.

Though Johnson had faced a prison sentence of between 1 ½ and two years, a judge granted her attorney's request that she be sentenced to a year in jail so that she could be in Seattle to undergo surgery and recover from the procedure at Harborview, the records say.

"The risk of not having surgery include bone infection and sepsis, extension of the wound into the joints or internal organs, and chronic anemia," a rehabilitation nurse wrote in a September 2000 letter that is part of the court record. "The longer she lives with this wound, the greater the risk of these complications, which can lead to death."

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed

to this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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