Jennifer Johnson Murder Trial Begins

Four days before her body was discovered in Lakeland, Jennifer Johnson, 31, shopped at Party City for her 2-year-old daughter’s birthday celebration. Her Party City shopping bag became the weapon used to kill her, a jury was told Monday.

When Johnson’s body was found Nov. 18, 2008, the plastic bag had been put over her head, then covered by a kitchen trash bag wrapped and tied tightly around her neck.

A Hillsborough County jury was shown gruesome photos of Johnson’s body with the bags over her face and neck on the first day of trial for Vincent George Brown, 41, Johnson’s former boyfriend and the father of the 2-year-old who never got her birthday party that weekend.

Several of Johnson’s family members fled the courtroom when the photos were revealed.

The jury was told that Brown forced Johnson into the trunk of her own car in the predawn hours of Nov. 15, 2008, drove her to a derelict house in Lakeland and killed her.

Jurors were also told they would hear a recording of a 911 call that Johnson made to a Plant City dispatcher from inside the trunk. The call was dropped, and police didn’t find her until three days later.

But Assistant Public Defender Robert Fraser said jurors would not hear Johnson identify Brown as her attacker during the call, or even say she was in her own car.

Assistant State Attorney Jalal Harb said the jury would hear plenty of evidence that Brown was with Johnson on the night she died and drove her car the day after, while her relatives frantically searched for her.

Harb also described a voice-mail greeting for friends that Brown recorded on his cell phone: “I did what I had to do, and it’s done. Y’all will probably never see me again. Just don’t forget about me.”

Fraser said the voice-mail greeting had nothing to do with Johnson. He said Brown was planning on turning himself in for a probation violation and expected to go to jail. “He was saying goodbye.”

Because conviction could mean the death penalty, lawyers spent all of last week choosing a jury from a pool of 150.

Circuit Judge William Fuente said the trial will last for two weeks.

Testimony resumes at 8:30 a.m. today.

St. Petersburg Times