A felon who shot a man sitting in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car has been sentenced to two terms of life in prison without parole.
Gulfport resident James McDowell had three felony convictions until a Harrison County jury convicted him of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon, District Attorney Joel Smith said in a press release Thursday.
Deverick Johnson died of a gunshot wound to the head on Feb. 27, 2017, on Lang Avenue in Long Beach. He was 25.
A jury last week deliberated a little more than an hour after a four-day trial and found McDowell guilty on both charges.
Circuit Judge Larry Bourgeois sentenced the 30-year-old McDowell as a habitual offender. McDowell had been convicted on shooting into a dwelling, possession of a controlled substance and a felon found with a firearm, and had served a year or more on each conviction, Smith said.
Johnson’s girlfriend testified that he and McDowell appeared to have a normal conversation that night and said the shooting was unprovoked.
Police at first didn’t know who McDowell was, but they identified his girlfriend, Charity McDowell, and Michael Taylor as being in the car with him as he told them to drive off and waved a pistol, firing shots at Johnson.
A woman had told police she didn’t know the shooter’s name, but said it was Charity McDowell’s boyfriend. Police arrested her and Taylor on 21st Street in Gulfport the evening of the shooting.
A Gulfport SWAT team arrested McDowell in a two-hour stand-off the next morning. Police removed three people from a home on Railroad Street and said they found McDowell hiding under blankets.
When McDowell was first questioned, he gave Long Beach police an alibi, saying he had been babysitting, Smith said. But at trial, he admitted he shot Johnson, claiming it was in self defense.
McDowell testified he thought Johnson was reaching under the car seat for a gun, thinking Johnson wanted to rob him, prosecutors said. But during cross-examination, he admitted hiding the murder weapon under the back porch of his girlfriend’s home, Smith said.
Charity McDowell and Taylor testified they and McDowell had been smoking pot and taking ecstasy pills before the shooting, but said they didn’t know McDowell had a gun and didn’t know he planned to shoot Johnson, said Assistant District Attorney Jason Josef.
They also testified McDowell got back in their car and started shooting. Taylor was the driver and Charity McDowell was in the front seat, according to a police affidavit.
“McDowell’s version of what happened that day was refuted by the forensic evidence as well as five witness to the shooting,” said Josef, who prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Alison Baker.
Long Beach and Gulfport residents came forward to testify and “did their part to ensure justice was served in their community,” Smith said.
Charity McDowell, 31, and Michael Taylor, 30, have each been convicted on accessory after the fact to murder.
Johnson and his three brothers were raised by a grandmother and an aunt and attended high school in Long Beach. He was the youngest of the brothers.