Schenectady County

Lawyers sum up in Schenectady murder trial

It’s testimony from Shawndell Johnson’s alleged accomplices that places the gun in Johnson’s hand


It’s testimony from Shawndell Johnson’s alleged accomplices that places the gun in Johnson’s hand, a prosecutor admitted to a jury Monday.

But that testimony is corroborated by other testimony and evidence, enough to far exceed the amount of proof needed for a first-degree murder conviction, prosecutor Philip Mueller told the Schenectady County Court jury.

“It is much, much, much more than the law requires,” Mueller told the jury. “It would support a conviction of the defendant, even if you never heard from the accomplices.”

Lawyers gave their closing arguments Monday afternoon in the three-week-old murder trial of Johnson.

Johnson is standing trial on murder and other counts, accused in the Sept. 1, 2008, shooting death of 40-year-old Ulysses Canty in what prosecutors say was a robbery gone wrong.

Johnson and the others allegedly targeted the home because it was a marijuana spot. Johnson was to get those inside to open the door, the others were to rush in after him. But they didn’t rush in. Johnson was pushed out.

Prosecutors allege that Johnson then took the group’s gun from an accomplice and fired five times through the door, hitting Canty once, killing him.

Johnson is being defended by attorney Adam Parisi. In his own closing, Parisi attacked the credibility of a line of prosecution witnesses, pointing out deals many made with the prosecution for their testimony.

Johnson, Parisi argued, was the convenient person for the others to point the finger at and avoid possible murder charges against themselves.

Parisi also went through a series of statements given by the accomplices, each telling different stories about their own involvement, before landing on the version Parisi alleged prosecutors wanted.

Referring to one of the alleged accomplices, 20-year-old Christopher J. Williams, Parisi said the motive behind his testimony was so he wouldn’t be labeled the shooter.

“What better way to get out of a problem than saying ‘I’m not the shooter, somebody else was and I’ll pick Shawndell,’ ” Parisi said.

Johnson was formally charged in September 2009, a year after the killing. He is accused of firing five pistol shots through an apartment door at 933 Albany St., hitting Canty once in the heart.

Regarding motivations, Mueller attempted to use that against Johnson. Two of the alleged accomplices, Williams and Jennifer Derenzo, were dating at the time and now are married, Mueller conceded.

But the key is another alleged accomplice, Tyrell Durham, Mueller argued. Durham was Johnson’s friend. He didn’t know Williams.

Durham wasn’t charged, so long as he told the truth. Durham would have had motive to protect his friend at the expense of Williams. But Durham’s story coincided with Williams’, Mueller said.

There was also forensic evidence, including DNA evidence from beer bottles from a party earlier that night that came back to the five accomplices and ballistic evidence suggesting a tall shooter. There were also at least three admissions by Johnson to others after the fact.

Regarding the deals, Mueller pointed out that without them, prosecutors and the jury wouldn’t know what happened outside the door after it was slammed shut. The only ones out there was the group that was intending to rob the place.

Johnson is standing trial in Schenectady County Court before Judge Michael Coccoma. Deliberations are expected to begin this morning.

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