In the early morning hours of October 1, 2003, 23-year-old Brandon Baity was shot to death on the corner of 69th Street and Emerald Avenue where he sold marijuana on the South Side of Chicago.
In June 2004, Chicago police arrested 18-year-old Clayton Sims and 17-year-old Anthony Johnson on charges of murder. Police said that Johnson drove Sims to the street corner where Baity was selling marijuana and Sims fired more than 10 shots at Baity. Police said Sims shot Baity in retaliation for Baity shooting Sims several weeks earlier.
Sims and Johnson went on trial in Cook County Circuit Court in October 2007. They were tried jointly by separate juries.
Nolan Swain, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, testified that he was a passenger in Johnson’s car when they saw Sims on the street and Sims asked for a ride to purchase marijuana. As they drove, Sims spotted a car being driven by Baity and said, “There goes the dude that shot me.” Swain said that at Sims’ request, Johnson followed Baity’s car and when it stopped, Sims got out and pulled a Mac-11 automatic pistol from under his sweatshirt and began firing at Baity. Swain said Sims then got back in the car and Johnson drove him to another location where Sims got out.
Rufus Johnson testified that he was the owner of the car and that he had allowed Anthony Johnson, who was no relation, to drive it that evening. Rufus Johnson testified that about a week after the shooting, Anthony Johnson told him that he had driven the car containing Sims to the site of the shooting and that Sims shot Baity and then they drove off together.
Alexander Weatherspoon testified for the defense that he was selling marijuana from a front porch for Baity shortly after midnight and that Baity was sitting in a car on the street. He said he saw a car pull up and saw Sims exit the vehicle and shoot Baity. He said that the car from which Sims exited left the scene without Sims, who fled on foot.
On October 10, 2007, the jury hearing Sims’ case acquitted him. The jury hearing Johnson’s case convicted him of first degree murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In 2010, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Johnson’s conviction and ordered a new trial because of a question the jury asked during deliberation about the statute of accountability. Johnson was charged under the statute as accountable for the murder for driving Sims to the scene of the shooting knowing that Sims was going to shoot Baity and for driving Sims away from the scene. The appeals court held that the trial judge gave an erroneous answer to the jury regarding the statute.
In March 2012, Johnson went on trial a second time. Swain and Rufus Johnson testified and recanted their testimony in the first trial. They both testified that they had been arrested on drug charges and falsely implicated Johnson in return for leniency. Swain said he had been beaten and held naked in a cold interrogation room all night until he gave a statement implicating Johnson.
Swain said that, in fact, he had passed out in the car after smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol that night, and only woke up when the gunshots were fired. He said that Johnson drove off and that Sims did not get into the vehicle after the shooting.
The defense called Sims, who testified that although he had been acquitted, he had shot Baity. Sims said that Johnson had no idea what was going to happen and that Johnson did not drive him from the scene.
Sims testified that he asked Johnson for a ride to buy marijuana and when he saw Baity, he told Johnson to follow him because Sims knew Baity sold marijuana. Sims said he intended to shoot Baity because Baity had shot him weeks earlier. Sims said his gun was hanging by a shoestring from his neck inside his hooded sweatshirt so that it could not be seen.
Sims testified that he told Johnson to pull over by Baity’s car so he could ask Baity if he had marijuana, but instead pulled the gun and held the trigger down as the gun emptied its magazine. He said he then fled on foot. Johnson, he said, had already sped off.
On March 22, 2012, the jury again convicted Johnson and he was sentenced to 47 years in prison.
On December 30, 2013, the Illinois Appellate Court again reversed Johnson’s conviction. The court, citing the testimony of Sims and the recantations of Swain and Rufus Johnson, held that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction. The court dismissed the case against Johnson.
In January 2014, the prosecution filed a petition seeking leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. The petition was granted and the Illinois Supreme Court vacated the reversal and remanded the case to the Appellate Court for reconsideration.
On December 31, 2014, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld its prior ruling to vacate the conviction and dismiss the case.
In 2015, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on Johnson's behalf against the city of Chicago and Chicago police officers. In 2016, Johnson was granted a certificate of innocence.
– Maurice Possley