The Deck - Jermaine Johnson (2 of Spades, Arizona)

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Our card this week is Jermaine Johnson, the Two of Spades from Arizona.

In 2006, Central Phoenix was shaken after a beloved member of the community was killed

while he was minding his own business, hanging out with his friends.

For 16 years, Phoenix police have attempted to hunt down the killers, only to hit dead

ends at every turn.

But they have far from given up hope because they know there are people in the community

who hold the answers to the questions that have haunted the city since 2006.

Who killed Jermaine, and why?

I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.

It was around 11.45 p.m. on October 20, 2006, and Detective Barry Giesemann with the Phoenix

Police Department was at home kicking off the weekend when he got a call that there

had been a homicide in Central Phoenix, and he needed to respond to the scene right away.

When he got there, the scene was already bustling with activity.

Patrol cars were lining the streets, and officers had roped off an alley that was sandwiched

between some office-type businesses and a house.

And although Detective Giesemann hadn’t been briefed on the situation yet, he was

probably hopeful that this would be an open and shut case.

I mean, it was a Friday night, and there were plenty of buildings nearby ripe with possible

witnesses, or at the very least, surely there was some surveillance footage around for them

to work with.

When Detective Giesemann was given the full lowdown, he learned that just before 9 p.m.,

dispatch had received several 911 calls about lots of gunshots and a man down.

Officers arrived moments later to find a young man lying in the middle of that alley.

His ID indicated that he was 27-year-old Jermaine Johnson.

It was clear he’d been shot multiple times, but was still somehow clinging to life.

But shortly after being rushed to the hospital, he passed away.

On scene still were two young men who said that they were both with Jermaine when he

was shot.

One was Jermaine’s 22-year-old cousin, Milo, and the other was their 17-year-old friend,


We’ve changed both of their names for this episode.

Through speaking with Milo and Kyle, police were able to piece together a timeline of

what led up to the shooting.

That evening, Jermaine, Milo, and Kyle went to the nearby cork and bottle liquor store

to get some cigars, and as they’re walking in, they saw this group of men standing around

outside of the store.

Jermaine and Milo recognized two of them because exactly a week prior, they had actually gotten

into a fight with those guys.

During that altercation, Milo said that he and Jermaine were sitting in the parking lot

of Arrowwood Apartments about a block away from where Jermaine was eventually killed.

And that’s when a group of people walked up to their car.

One of the guys asked Jermaine, quote, what’s the A like?

He means like the letter A.

Milo said that he and Jermaine didn’t know what exactly that meant, so Jermaine repeated

the guy’s question back to him, like, what’s the A like?

Now, it is worth noting that A is slang for acid or LSD, so it’s possible that’s what

these guys were talking about, but there are also far more innocent explanations, like

Milo thought maybe he meant A for Arizona.

Anyways, Milo said that the guy went on hassling Jermaine, but eventually a woman who was with

the group of guys separated them.

Now at some point during the incident, guns were drawn.

No one was shot, but Jermaine’s car did get grazed by a bullet.

Milo and Jermaine didn’t see those guys again until this day, standing outside the

liquor store with some other people.

So Jermaine, Milo, and Kyle bought what they wanted at the liquor store, and then when

they walked back outside, this group of guys had already left.

Jermaine and Milo and Kyle carried on their merry way, but they didn’t get very far, because

as the three of them cut through an alley that went behind the business right next to

the liquor store, that’s where they were confronted by those same two guys from the group, and

they both looked like they were ready to fight.

Here is Detective Michelle Cervantes.

She’s working the case today.

According to the people that were with Jermaine, there were words exchanged, like, hey, it’s

all good, let’s talk it out, and everybody thought things were good.

But things weren’t good.

The guy who’d gotten into a shouting match with Jermaine last week walked up to Jermaine

while reaching into his waistband to grab a gun.

Milo and Kyle said that Jermaine stopped the guy before he pulled out the gun and said

something along the lines of, there’s no need to shoot it out, we’re both men, we can box.

To which the man replied, let’s fight.

The guy took a few steps back and said, weapons down, while pulling out his gun, which looked

like a semi-automatic pistol.

Milo said that he acted like he was going to put the gun down, but as he was setting

it down, he was acting weird, like he kept looking around and scanning the area.

Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the guy pointed his pistol at Jermaine and fired four

or five shots.

In a complete panic, Milo and Kyle rushed to find cover.

They heard more gunfire from what sounded like a different gun and then saw two guys

running away.

That’s when they noticed Jermaine laying in the middle of the alley in a pool of blood.

Milo ran all the way home, instructed his mother to call the police, and then ran back

to the scene to be with his cousin.

And that’s when police arrived.

Milo and Kyle didn’t really know the guys, but they thought that their nicknames were

Maniac and Xavier.

Now it’s not clear to me how they knew their nicknames.

Maybe Jermaine called them those names before they shot him.

Perhaps they were calling each other those names.

We don’t know.

And police reports aren’t clear about it.

Whatever the case, Milo and Kyle were also able to provide a description for police.

They were black males, 18 to 20 to 25 years old.

Both were approximately five foot nine.

Both were approximately 155 pounds.

Xavier was described as being a dark-skinned male with short hair.

Maniac was described to have short hair.

One of the guys, either Milo or Kyle, pointed out to investigators that Jermaine’s car

was nearby.

It was actually parked right over at the Fountain Oaks apartment complex, which was right beside

the alley.

Officers went to examine it and they found a dent in the car’s trunk that looked like

it was from a bullet, which supported Milo’s statement that Jermaine was involved in an

argument the previous Friday that involved a shooting.

So police knew that they needed to process the car along with the scene where Jermaine

was shot.

So at the scene, we had some blood.

We had some other items.

We had some beer cans and some other cans of another liquid.

And then obviously we had the casings that we collected.

We don’t even know if those cans were even involved, but they were nearby.

So, you know, you have one shot at processing a crime scene.

So if you think it’s possibly related, you want to collect it.

And it may not even, later on, we determined that it wasn’t even related at all.

But because it was nearby, we did collect it and we did process it.

Casings and beer cans weren’t the only things investigators found, though.

They also discovered a piece of paper with a phone number scribbled on it, along with

the name Sharonda.

The paper was near where Jermaine had fallen, so police thought maybe it had slipped out

of his pocket.

And naturally, they wanted to talk with Sharonda.

Once morning rolled around, Detective Giesemann called the number on the piece of paper.

And on the other end was a woman named Sharonda who identified herself as Jermaine’s sister.

She had already been notified of his death and talked to police, so she didn’t have anything

else super helpful to add.

Now, she was at the hospital when Jermaine was taken there, along with some of his family.

But one person who hadn’t been at the hospital was Jermaine’s mom, Veronica.

So Detective Giesemann asked about her.

Sharonda said that she was all the way in Alabama visiting family, but she’d already

been informed of what had happened and she was trying to fly back to Phoenix that day.

Authorities had plenty to do in the meantime.

Specifically, Detective Giesemann wanted to get back to his initial hunch.

Surely someone around the crime scene saw something.

So they started knocking on doors.

But that wasn’t as fruitful as he’d hoped.

A few people said like, yeah, we heard gunshots last night, but that was about it.

Unfortunately, the area that it was in, I mean, this happened in an alley at nighttime.

It’s unknown how many people were outside their apartments at the time.

You know, most likely it was dark because it is in an alley.

Alleys are not usually lit up, especially in this area.

You know, there’s a lot of people in that area that will not speak to police, unfortunately.

So that’s a big hurdle right there.

These individuals that were involved most likely are only known on the street by nickname.

So it’s very hard to track them down.

There is quite a bit of crime that occurs in that area.

There are at least two large apartment complexes in that area where drugs are common in that

area, as well as gang-related activities.

Whether people weren’t talking because they were scared or because they truly didn’t

see anything, police didn’t know.

But either way, they weren’t getting the information that they needed to solve the case.

So investigators turned to nearby businesses to see if they had any surveillance footage.

But none of them did, not a single one.

So after striking out on their hunt for video, investigators checked to see if the Cork & Bottle

liquor store kept records of people’s IDs who buy alcohol or cigarettes there, hoping

maybe the two suspects bought something before shooting Jermaine.

But the store manager said that they didn’t keep any kind of records like that.

So next investigators went to the nearby apartment complex, Fountain Oaks, and they asked the

office manager if she knew anyone by the nicknames Maniac or Xavier, but she didn’t.

At this point, I would say detectives were back to square one, but they had been stuck

there, already kind of grasping at straws.

Even after Jermaine’s mom, Veronica, got to town, she couldn’t add much.

She and a bunch of other family members gathered to talk to police, and they all said that

they weren’t aware of any enemies Jermaine had.

And they said that he hadn’t talked to them about any trouble recently either.

So it seemed to detectives that the only person who knew the most and was willing to be honest

with them was Jermaine’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Julia.

But we know there was at least something, right?

Milo and Kyle talked about that altercation a week before, and that story was backed up

by Julia.

She said pretty much the same thing, that he had gotten shot at about a week before.

And they kept going back to Julia every once in a while just to see if there was anything


And from reading the police reports, it seems like it wasn’t until the days following the

murder that Julia told investigators the shooting she told them about before, where Jermaine

had gotten shot at, was more like a shootout.

Like Jermaine had told her he returned fire, which was new information.

So investigators decided to put together a photo lineup of two individuals that they

thought could possibly have been involved in that shootout, because they were known

to go by the street names Xavier and Maniac.

Now they intermixed those with photos of other men, and they showed the photo lineups to

Milo asking him to point out which, if any, of the guys were present at that shooting.

Police would also go over the photos with Kyle, but neither of those lineups provided

the results that police were hoping for.

It could be that these witnesses, when they initially gave the names that they did give

to us, when it actually came around to picking these individuals out of a photo lineup, they

may have gotten scared.

But since they didn’t pick these two individuals out, we basically have to go back to the drawing

board and hope that there’s going to be other people to come forward to tell us about it,

or we get some positive results from the items that we submitted to our crime lab for analysis.

It wasn’t long until they did get results back from the crime lab.

Everything from the scene had been sent off, and one of the things there got a hit.

But Detective Cervantes didn’t want to elaborate on which of the items that was, like if it

was one of the beer cans or something else at the scene.

We did get a DNA hit on something that ended up not being probative to the investigation.

When you go into a crime scene, you only have one shot, so you collect what you think may

be probative.

In this case, the item that we got the DNA hit on was not probative.

She also didn’t elaborate on what she meant by not probative.

Like were they able to get a full DNA profile from the item, match it to someone in CODIS

and then rule them out through an alibi or something?

Or did the testing only produce a partial profile that didn’t meet the criteria to

be uploaded to any databases?

Or were they able to track it to someone but it became clear that they didn’t have anything

to do with the crime, so that was likely discarded trash from before the crime even happened

rather than actual evidence in the crime?

There are so many different things that not probative can mean when you’re talking about

But unfortunately, we don’t have those answers.

Whatever the case, while the DNA hit got their hopes up, it ultimately ended up being another

dead end for investigators.

As the days and weeks dragged by, detectives caught wind of some rumors going around town

that at least sort of answered one of the questions looming over the case.

Why were these two guys so mad at Jermaine?

It was rumored to be over a girl or possibly money owed to somebody.

Having a hunch about motive does next to nothing when you don’t have any suspects.

And by the time November rolled around, police were getting tired of waiting for the assailants

to come forward on their own.

So they began handing out flyers directing people to Silent Witness, which is an organization

that lets people submit tips anonymously, basically Phoenix’s version of Crimestoppers.

They passed out flyers at the cork and bottle liquor store, several apartments near the

murder scene, anywhere they could think of that was possibly connected to Jermaine’s


Despite their efforts, as the months passed, Jermaine’s case went ice cold.

But his family didn’t give up hope, especially his mom Veronica.

Even as years went by, Veronica kept diligently calling and meeting with detectives to see

if there were any updates in her son’s case.

The passage of time did nothing to sway how desperately she wanted her son’s killer

behind bars.

She missed her talented, loving son more than anything.

He was remembered as a hard worker at his job, as a customer service representative

at a local call center.

But when he wasn’t working his regular hours or taking on overtime, he loved playing sports

and writing songs and recording music with his cousin.

Part of Jermaine’s obituary in the Arizona Republic read, quote,

With his unique personality, he would always embrace you with a hug and a friendly smile.

End quote.

Those hugs and that smile were things Veronica knew she’d never get to experience again,

because a pair of cowards decided to snuff out his bright light.

In 2014, Veronica told that she felt tracking down her son’s killers

was a final act of love.

She said, quote,

I’ll go to the end.

I just want to see those people come to justice.

It won’t bring Jermaine back, but the unknowing just kills you.

End quote.

Veronica said that her son had the biggest heart, and she knew he’d be proud of her

for pushing for justice.

In 2016, for the 10-year anniversary of Jermaine’s death, the family held a press conference

that was covered on local news station ABC 15.

Veronica made a public plea for any witnesses to come forward.

I just pray that God touches the person’s heart that’s seen this, so that they can

come forth and tell us what happened.

We need some closure in our family.

Despite the plea, the case would remain stagnant for another three years, until 2019, when

investigators got their first big, tangible tip.

In March of that year, investigators got a call that an inmate named Robert at a local

jail had information about a murder.

He knew who did the killing and where the weapon was buried.

Investigators weren’t sure what specific homicide he was even talking about, but they

were open to new leads on any of their cold cases.

So Detective Cervantes went to talk to Robert, and he had quite the story to tell.

He said that a while back, he was talking to this longtime friend of his who we’ll

call Edward, and their conversation turned to the topic of guns.

Robert recalled that his buddy Edward used to have a certain kind of gun and that he

hadn’t seen him with it in a while.

So he asked what had happened to it.

And Edward said that he had buried the gun with demons in it, which Robert understood

to mean Edward had killed someone with it.

Edward told Robert that he had wrapped the gun in plastic and buried it in the ground.

Edward even drew a map for him and showed him where it was buried, which was near the

intersection of 40th Street and McDowell Road, a block away from where Jermaine was gunned

down in 2006.

But that wasn’t the only thing leading detectives to believe Robert was talking about Jermaine’s


There was something else that he mentioned that made their ears perk up.

Robert said Edward had a friend who grew up in California, and apparently Edward and his

friend had been in a shootout a few years back over a dispute about a woman at the Arrowwood

apartment complex.

Now that’s the exact complex where Jermaine and his cousin Milo had been in a shootout

a week before Jermaine was killed.

Detective Cervantes showed Robert a Google map of the area that he mentioned to see if

he could pinpoint the exact location where he said the gun was buried, and he did.

He said it was in front of an apartment complex, in a green irrigation or utility box, which

are totally different things, but really what mattered to investigators was the location.

This felt so promising, so Detective Cervantes wasted no time.

She got a search warrant for the green box Robert mentioned, but there was no gun in

or around the box.

And that dead-end tip is the last big lead investigators received in Jermaine’s now

16-year-old case.

In some ways, detectives feel like they’re no closer to solving it than they were in


And not knowing who these individuals are, we don’t know if they’re gang members, which

if somebody has information, and these two, if they were, I don’t know because we don’t

know who they are, but if they were gang members, you’re not going to have a person snitch on

a gang member.

It just, it doesn’t happen because there’s going to possibly be retaliation.

I don’t know if this was gang-related because we have no information on that, and, you know,

we have parts of our city that just will not give information to the police in fear of

retaliation or in fear of being labeled as a snitch.

Even with the frustrating lulls and roadblocks in the investigation, detectives haven’t given up.

He’s still a victim of homicide.

Nobody’s life should be taken in this way.

Jermaine was just walking down the alley with a couple of people.

There was nothing that provoked it at that time.

It’s pretty cold-hearted to what these individuals did by just coming up to him, and were they

the ones that were involved in the first incident a week prior?

Very possibly that they were.

Well, let it go.

It’s not worth taking someone’s life over.

You know, Jermaine had family, you know, loved, and he’s missed.

And I believe that’s why I went into homicide, is because all these people deserve some sort

of closure or justice.

And if he was involved in any illegal activity, it doesn’t make him any less of a victim.

He’s still someone’s son, brother.

People knowing what happened and not coming forward to tell us.

Us detectives speak for these victims now because they don’t have a voice.

And I think the families deserve to know and to have justice and have closure and hold

the persons responsible for who did this.

Jermaine’s family has waited 16 long years to see his killer brought to justice.

They deserve answers and closure.

And whoever the monsters are that did this to Jermaine, they deserve to be held responsible.

So please, if you have any information at all about the murder of Jermaine Johnson in

2006, reach out to the Phoenix Police Department at 602-262-6151.

Or call Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS, that’s 480-948-6377.

Now you may have already looked at your feed and noticed that I posted two episodes today.

There’s this one and another bonus episode.

You can listen to that episode on Willie Troy Price Sr., King of Diamonds, right now, wherever

you listen to podcasts.

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