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Man convicted in 1994 Hazelwood murder acquitted in retrial

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Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 4:44 p.m.
 

A man who spent the past 18 years in prison for the shooting death of a Hazelwood woman will soon be a free man.

An Allegheny County jury on Wednesday acquitted Terrell Johnson, 37, of all charges in a retrial for the July 22, 1994, killing of Verna Robinson, 30. Someone fatally shot her in Hazelwood before she could testify against Johnson in an assault case and against a gang member in a drive-by shooting.

Johnson, who has maintained his innocence, cried as the jury foreman read the verdict.

“Justice has been served,” said Johnson's wife, Saundra Cole. “It's been a long 18 years.”

Assistant District Attorney Russ Broman could not be reached. The District Attorney's Office did not return calls.

Barbara Robinson, the victim's mother, left the courtroom without speaking shortly after the verdict.

The jury informed Common Pleas Judge Donald E. Machen that it was deadlocked on Wednesday, the second day of deliberations, but came to a unanimous decision shortly after 4 p.m.

“Sometimes justice takes a long time, but it comes,” said defense attorney Turahn Jenkins.

Jenkins and Broman met with the jury privately after the verdict. Jenkins said jurors told them their visit to the crime scene on Monday helped them better visualize what was being said in the courtroom.

“They said there were things presented to them that made it so they couldn't prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

A jury in 1995 convicted Johnson of the killing primarily on the testimony of Evelyn “Dolly” McBride, who said she saw him shoot Robinson.

A judge in August 2009 granted Johnson a new trial based on testimony from Kenneth Robinson — no relation to the victim — who said McBride was in his home at the time of the killing and could not have seen the shooting.

A month later, prosecutors offered Johnson a plea deal of 7 12 to 15 years in prison, which would have allowed him to go home with credit for time served. He elected the second trial.

Jurors this month heard conflicting testimony from McBride and Kenneth Robinson. They also heard from lawyers about how their testimony changed.

The two-week trial spawned marches and protests outside the courthouse from Johnson supporters. Relatives of Johnson and Robinson packed the courtroom.

Jenkins said he was hopeful the state would release Johnson from the state prison in Greene County on Thursday morning.

“I'm happy for him,” he said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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