Mistrial declared in beating death of man with special needs

Johnny Owens III
Johnny Owens III

A man accused in the 2013 beating death of his housemate with special needs will get a new trial after a jury could not return a unanimous verdict Wednesday.

District Attorney Joel Smith said Circuit Judge Lisa Dodson declared a mistrial in the case against Johnny Owens III.

On Wednesday night, a jury returned a guilty verdict for second-degree murder in the death of Larry Johnson, 50, a Gulfport man who was beaten and stomped in the head Feb. 25, 2013. He was taken off life support the following day.

But after further inquiry, the court learned the jurors’ verdict was not unanimous, so Dodson declared a mistrial, Smith said.

Owens will face trial again Dec. 12.

Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove said Johnson died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Owens had been arrested on a murder charge. Johnson’s family told the Sun Herald in 2013 they were told Owens had been kicked out of the house but had returned and was bullying other housemates.

Johnson and Owens lived in a boarding-house arrangement in a mobile home on Robinson Road.

The one-day trial included an eyewitness who also lived in the home.

Smith said the witness testified he watched Owens assault Johnson and stomp on his head. The jury also heard testimony from Harrison County deputies, a psychiatrist and a forensic pathologist from the state Crime Lab.

Johnson had been hit by a train in Waveland about 17 years before his death, his family told the Sun Herald. He suffered neurological damage and had recently come to terms with his disability before he was killed, they said.

Staff writer Robin Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

Justin Mitchell: 228-604-0705, @Journalism_J