Defendant identified in attempted murder

STEUBENVILLE – An eyewitness in an attempted murder trial Tuesday identified Antonio “Smiley” Johnson, 23, of Steubenville as the man who pulled out a weapon and began firing shots on July 2 in the 1500 block of Orchard Avenue.

Johnson is charged with single counts of attempted murder and felonious assault, with gun and gang specifications, having a weapon as a convicted felon and improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle.

The jury was seated and the trail began Tuesday afternoon before Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. It is expected to last through Thursday.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said two women and three men were driving from the Labelle section to Pleasant Heights and drove past Johnson’s vehicle on the Lawson Avenue bridge. Hanlin said Johnson turned the vehicle around and followed the other vehicle.

The vehicle with five occupants parked on Orchard Avenue and two of the men got out. Johnson got out of his vehicle and pulled out an assault rifle and fired 17 shots at the men.

Da’Lesha Thorn of Steubenville said she was a passenger in the vehicle, which included Tristen Hampton, the driver, and Stedmund C. Creech, 23, of Steubenville, Rolland K. Owens, 22, of Wintersville, and a man only known as C.J. Thorn said she saw Johnson pass their vehicle on Lawson Avenue. She said Johnson’s vehicle pulled up behind their vehicle on Orchard Avenue.

Thorn said Johnson got out of his car, stood behind the open driver’s door and pulled out a “shotgun.”

She identified Johnson in the courtroom.

Thorn said Owens and C.J. got out of their vehicle and that is when the shooting began.

Thorn told Hampton to drive away, and Thorn said she called police. Creech also stayed in the vehicle.

Thorn was interviewed by police and she picked Johnson’s picture out of a photo lineup.

Hampton testified she didn’t see who was firing the gun. She said she did pick Johnson out of a photo lineup, saying she was told it was Johnson who was firing the gun.

Creech and Owens were indicted in connection with the case.

Creech was indicted on three counts of having a weapon as a convicted felon and single counts of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and carrying a concealed weapon. Creech is still wanted.

Owens was indicted on single counts of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and carrying a concealed weapon. His trial is pending.

Hanlin said an elderly woman was outside with her great-grandchild when the shots were fired around 3:50 p.m. on July 2.

Hanlin said one person in the Hampton vehicle returned gunshots at Johnson. She said Johnson’s vehicle had a bullet hole in the windshield.

Hanlin said the shots fired was gang related, adding Johnson has several gang-related tattoos.

Johnson attempted to leave the scene but was involved in a wreck with another vehicle, Hanlin said. He drove several blocks away, where he entered the woods with the assault weapon, Hanlin said. She said officers were told by a TV satellite employee, who was working in the area, that a man ran into the woods. Officers searched the woods and found the assault weapon, Hanlin said.

Johnson eluded police capture until Aug. 3 when he was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service at a home in Smithfield.

Defense attorney Steven Stickles said there were shots fired that day on Orchard Avenue but he said there is reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case. He said the jury can’t let the fear of gang violence guide them, adding they need to follow the evidence.