Johnson disputes CCTV evidence in murder trial

| 28/06/2021
Michael Aaron Bush

(CNS): During three days in the witness box giving evidence on his own behalf and attempting to explain the video evidence, Jashawn Owen Anthony Johnson (21) continued to claim that he killed Michael Aaron Bush (22) on the morning of Christmas Eve in self-defence and that he had sustained a neck injury during the fight. Johnson was questioned by his attorney, Courtenay Griffiths QC, about the night’s events as he gave his account of the CCTV footage, which shows Johnson pulling a knife on Bush and then chasing him into the car park before Bush returns displaying a bloody stab wound in his chest.

Johnson claimed that he had first encountered the man he now knew to be Bush at the doorway or just inside Lillie’s nightclub in the Strand Plaza, where the man had made unprovoked, derogatory comments to him. Johnson was vague about the alleged insults but said he felt threatened by Bush and believed he might have had a gun. None of this is on CCTV.

Later in the night, Johnson and Bush are captured on camera in some type of altercation. Johnson said that as he attempted to get into Casa Bar, another late night spot, Bush began interfering in the conversation he was having with the door security, as he tried to persuade them to let him in despite being under the minimum age of 25. The CCTV shows Bush outside the bar in the corridor area holding a drink and a cigarette and patting Johnson on the chest. Johnson claimed he was also taunting him and making implied threats that he was armed.

He said that throughout the argument he had remained calm and continued to focus on trying to get into the club, although the video shows what appears to become an angry confrontation and Johnson “storming away”, as the crown described it. Nevertheless, Johnson denied being angry when he left the area to retrieve a knife from his friend’s car.

Johnson claimed that he placed the knife in a small bag he was wearing around his neck, even though the weapon used to kill Bush was longer that the bag and would have stuck out but could not be seen on the high quality CCTV footage. He claimed he had armed himself, not to go after Bush but because he was afraid that Bush was coming after him.

After getting the knife, Johnson is seen on video returning to the spot where he and Bush had engaged in the angry confrontation. Johnson told the court that when he returned with the knife he was going to try to find his friends so he could go home.

On the CCTV footage Johnson appears to be looking for Bush — though he vehemently denied this — while Bush does not appear to be looking for him. Johnson stands by a column outside Casa Bar for a few moments, then he turns and walks down the corridor towards Bush. At that point, a woman who is with Bush strikes Johnson. A struggle ensues and Bush also takes a swing at Johnson, who then pulls his knife. Bush immediately turns to run away, with Johnson in pursuit.

As he gave his interpretation of the video, Johnson claimed that he had pulled the knife awkwardly from his zipped up bag and that Bush may also have had a weapon. He said he slashed at Bush but when he ran away, he only pursued him to ensure that he would be safe from Bush. He also claimed that he had not stabbed Bush again in the car park, as contended by the crown.

“I ran after him to make myself clear of any threat or harm,” Johnson said on the stand a number of times. “I was being attacked and I defended myself.”

Under cross-examination for more than a day, Johnson stuck to his story, even though it contradicted with the footage. While he visibly struggled, and largely succeeded, in remaining calm throughout, he did occasionally lash out at prosecutor Gregg Malcolm as he pressed Johnson to explain how his version of events fitted with what could be seen on camera.

“Stop making stupid assumptions,” Johnson told the crown counsellor a number of times, as he denied the suggestions Malcolm made that he had gone in pursuit of Bush and was not acting in self-defence. Giving inconsistent responses and struggling to match his claims to the CCTV, he often answered questions with a question, prolonging the cross-examination.

However, Johnson stuck to his position that he was scared for his life, was threatened by Bush who he believed was armed, and that he himself had sustained an injury.

Johnson claimed that the court was unable to see any injury to his neck when he was caught on camera again at an Esso gas station on his way home because at that point it was the same colour as his skin tone and had blended in with his skin. Pictures taken at the police station following his arrest a few days later that clearly show a significant neck injury were different, he said, because the scar was starting to heal.

Johnson denied hurting himself, either as a result of the predicament he was in or as a means of creating a defence argument, but he was unable to say exactly how it happened during his struggle with Bush.

Bush had three stab wounds and Johnson claimed that all three were sustained during the brief moment after Bush had hit Johnson, when he had pulled his knife and quickly slashed at him. He denied inflicting the fatal wound in the car park, where in the video it appears that the two men are still engaged in an altercation, though the footage at that point is far less clear than the footage captured just outside Casa.

Although he had sustained a fatal wound, in the video Bush remains on his feet, walking around the Strand nightclub complex for several minutes before finally collapsing. He was later assisted by paramedics and taken to hospital, where he died in surgery.

At this time Johnson was unaware of the severity of the wound he had inflicted on Bush and left the scene with his friends. He denied telling them much about the fight or discussing the injury on his neck. However, the CCTV footage at the Esso station appears to show Johnson demonstrating the fight, as the men cross the forecourt into the store.

Johnson claimed that he had been “very shocked” and had remained in that state of shock and confusion during the days following. He said the inconsistencies in the statement he gave to police before he saw the CCTV footage was because his mind was “a jumble of confusion”. He said he had never been in trouble with the police before and he could not understand how he had got into the mess he was in.

The case, which is being heard by judge alone, continues.

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