Witness offers contradictory testimony in Phoenix trial

Jurors in the retrial of two brothers accused of setting a pit bull ablaze heard testimony from two key witnesses Wednesday, one revealing new details in a police surveillance video while the other raised questions about what he saw the day of the crime.

Police Sgt. Jarron Jackson identified Travers and Tremayne Johnson in the video, which shows parts of the May 27, 2009, incident. He pointed them out walking the dog and leading her to an alley close to where the dog was found in flames. Jurors had seen the video twice, but Jackson was the first witness to identify the Johnsons in it.

Earlier, Michael Taylor, a friend of the Johnsons, confirmed a statement he made in June 2009 linking the brothers to the dog. But he gave contradictory answers when lawyers asked Wednesday whether that statement was true.

Jackson and Taylor are among a handful of witnesses prosecutors are using to tie the Johnson twins to the crime. There is no DNA or other forensic evidence linking them to the dog, but Jackson's video identification and statements from Taylor and another witness, Tiera Goodman, connect them to the burning, prosecutors say.

The Johnsons, now 20, are accused of dousing the young female pit bill with an unknown accelerant and setting her on fire in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore. The dog, which rescue workers named Phoenix, was severely burned over most of her body and euthanized days later.

The brothers were first tried in January and February of 2011. The case drew national attention from anti-animal-abuse advocates and ended in a mistrial when one juror would not agree to convict the brothers.

Prosecutors played an audio tape of Taylor's original statements to police for jurors. He was questioned June 6, 2009, a week and a half after the dog was burned and hours after police arrested Taylor and his girlfriend on unrelated drug and gun charges.

When the prosecutors asked Taylor about the statements Wednesday, he reluctantly confirmed that he made them but called it "a story" that he made up. Responding to questions from defense lawyers, Taylor said the detectives told him they would drop charges against his girlfriend if he provided information on the dog burning.

But when prosecutors pressed Taylor again about the truth of his statements to police, he said he wasn't coerced into making them, nor was he providing false information to protect himself.

Police also played a video of Goodman's testimony from the 2011 trial. She was called to the stand Tuesday but refused to testify and was sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of court. In the video, she said she saw three men running from the alley where, at the opening, the dog was found burning, and identified two of them as the Johnsons.

Defense lawyers questioned whether Goodman's statements were made up in order to qualify for a reward that was raised from $1,000 to $27,000 for information on the dog burning.

"I know what I saw; I just didn't care until I saw the reward," Goodman said on the tape.



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