CLEVELAND — A man now faces the death penalty after jurors on Saturday found him guilty of slaying two men in a downtown Cleveland apartment building in 2016
James Johnson, 31, was convicted of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and other counts in the Jan. 21, 2016 slayings of Rashaad Bandy, 35, and Brandon James, 27, in their eighth-floor apartment in the Archer building on West 9th Street.
He carried out the killings as part of a course of conduct and while committing aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and felonious assault, specifications that make him eligible for the death penalty, jurors found.
The sequestered jury deliberated until after 8 p.m. Friday, and returned about 8 a.m. Saturday and deliberated for less than an hour before reaching their verdict.
The penalty phase of the trial will begin Thursday, where jurors will decide whether to recommend that Judge Kathleen Sutula, who oversaw the trial, should impose the death penalty.
Johnson smile as he was led into the courtroom by deputies before the verdict. He showed no emotion during the hearing, and saluted to a group of people gathered seated to support him as he was led back to a holding cell after his conviction.
Johnson and a man who has yet to be identified were let into the apartment building about 7:30 p.m. by a friend of Bandy and James. The building manager at the security desk wrote down that one of the men gave his last name as “Johnson” and that he was there to see his uncle, prosecutors said.
Johnson and Bandy grew up together and were so close that Johnson referred to Bandy as his “uncle,” lawyers said.
Johnson and the unknown assailant then went to the eighth floor, burst into the apartment, and Johnson fired a shot into the wall, prosecutors said. James took off running, and Johnson fired a fatal shot into his back, prosecutors said.
Johnson then executed Bandy with a single shot to the back of his head, prosecutors said.
The men then left with two duffel bags and everyone in the room’s cellphones, but left six pounds of marijuana and a loaded handgun.
Johnson then skipped Bandy’s funeral and went to Michigan, where he was arrested after leading police there on a chase and giving them a fake name.
Witnesses, including the building’s manager, a man inside the apartment at the time of the killings, identified Johnson in part because he has a lazy eye.
Another key piece of evidence was Johnson’s uncle, a Cleveland fire department arson investigator, who happened to see Johnson the morning after the killings dump a pair of Timberland boots into a dumpster at a gas station on Cleveland’s East Side.
Johnson’s DNA was also found on the door handle of an apartment down the hallway, which prosecutors said he inadvertently opened as he tried to run from the scene of the killing.