HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - It took a jury just over an hour to reach a verdict in the murder trial of habitual offender James McDowell, convicting him in the shooting death of a Long Beach man.
For four days last week, the jury listened to testimony about the shooting, which claimed the life of 25-year-old Deverick Johnson. Because he had multiple felony convictions before the shooting, the judge ordered McDowell to serve two life sentences without the possibility of parole.
On Feb. 27, 2017, Johnson was sitting in the front passenger seat of his girlfriend's car when McDowell, an acquaintance, approached the vehicle and got into the backseat. Johnson's girlfriend testified in court that the two men were having a normal conversation when McDowell pulled out a gun and fired shots without any provocation.
McDowell, however, testified that he shot Johnson in self-defense, claiming he believed Johnson was reaching under the seat for a gun to rob him. Testimony from witnesses disputed that claim, said prosecutors. According to court documents from the time of the shooting, McDowell and Johnson were arguing over money and a stolen gun but Johnson's girlfriend told WLOX at the time that the two men were talking normally when it got quiet.
"All of a sudden, (McDowell) pops up and says, 'OK, well, I'm gonna head out.' He shook (Johnson's) hands between the seats and he opens up the door, and all I see out of the corner of my eye is the gunshot and I hear his last breath," she said at the time.
After killing Johnson, McDowell fled to another vehicle in the parking lot, stopping to fire off two more shots at the vehicle Johnson and his girlfriend were in. McDowell jumped into a black car and sped off, said the girlfriend.
That car was driven by Michael Taylor with McDowell's sister Charity riding in the passenger seat. Both Taylor and Charity McDowell were arrested later that day. They told investigators they did not know James McDowell was going to shoot Johnson. Both Charity and Taylor testified in court that McDowell got back in the car and admitted to shooting Johnson. They both said he was waving a gun around when he ordered Taylor to drive.
Michael Taylor and Charity McDowell were convicted of accessory after the fact. In court, they both testified that they were smoking spice and taking ecstasy pills with McDowell before the shooting.
When officers found McDowell the next morning, he had barricaded himself inside a Gulfport home. A SWAT team was called and, after a few hours, used tear gas and flash bangs to enter the house. Authorities said they found McDowell hiding under a pile of blankets inside the home, adding that he then surrendered without incident.
McDowell had three prior felony convictions for shooting into a dwelling, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.
“We are extremely proud of the Long Beach and Gulfport Police Departments and the citizens who came forward as witnesses to this crime," said district attorney Joel Smith. "They did their part to ensure justice was served in their community."
The case was prosecuted by assistant district attorneys Jason Josef and Alison Baker.