West Memphis, AR – A convicted cop-killer who was serving two life sentences plus 835 years will soon walk free after the Arkansas Supreme Court determined prosecutors violated his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment.
Demarcus Donnell Parker, 29, was convicted of first-degree murder, 21 counts of discharge a firearm from a vehicle, and six counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Forrest City Police Officer Oliver Johnson, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Officer Johnson, 25, was off-duty at home playing videogames with his daughters and other children at approximately 3:30 p.m. on April 28, 2018, when two groups of rival gang members got into a shootout outside his residence.
The father-of-two was fatally struck by a stray bullet that tore through his home during the gun battle, WMC reported.
Witnesses reported hearing at least 40 shots being fired during the melee.
Honoring Forrest City, Arkansas Police Department Officer Oliver Johnson Jr, died April 28, 2018, when an unidentified person unleashed a spray of bullets at his home. Honor him so he is not forgotten. pic.twitter.com/4zYAfmQQDh
— Steve Wightman (@stevewightman1) April 29, 2018
Parker, who sports a Gangster Disciples tattoo, was arrested approximately two weeks later along with his co-defendant, 26-year-old George Jealvontia Henderson, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Now-former Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington ultimately gave Henderson immunity in exchange for his cooperation in the case against Parker.
Under Arkansas’ speedy trial rules, prosecutors have one year from the time of a defendant’s arrest to bring a case to trial, The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
When defendants are sitting in jail, the time limit drops to just nine months in certain cases, according to the news outlet.
Parker’s defense attorneys alerted Second Judicial Circuit Judge Randy Philhours at the nine-month mark that the gang member’s trial rights were in jeopardy.
Philhours agreed and released Parker from jail on his own recognizance in December of 2019, The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
West Memphis police arrested found Parker carrying a stolen firearm just five weeks later and arrested him on a charge of felony theft by receiving, according to court records.
That offense was later dismissed after he was convicted in the murder case, The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
Parker’s murder trial was held in September of 2020 and he was subsequently sentenced to two life sentences plus 835 years.
He later appealed the convictions on the allegation his right to a speedy trial was violated since the trial began after the mandatory one-year limit had passed, The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
“We are left with no choice but to reverse and dismiss,” Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp said in a recent 22-page ruling. “If the defendant is not brought to trial within the requisite time, the defendant is entitled to have the charges dismissed with an absolute bar to prosecution.”
“The constitutional right to a speedy trial, as embodied in Rule 28.1 of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure, is available to an accused in all criminal prosecutions,” Kemp added. “The Sixth Amendment provides, ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.'”
Justice Rhonda Wood penned a concurring opinion on the issue, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
“This rule protects the accused from languishing in jail while awaiting trial and ensures a swift chance to clear their name,” Wood wrote. “The right to a speedy trial is essential to our justice system. And our laws must be applied equally to the guilty and innocent alike. It is easier to uphold the rule of law when the accused is innocent. It is not so easy when a jury found the defendant guilty. Yet we must uphold the rule of law for everyone.”
West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon was outraged to learn that due to a technicality, a convicted cop-killer will soon be back on the streets with no repercussions, WMC reported.
“Excuse my language, but I am pissed off,” McClendon said. “Justice wasn’t served… It is all because our prosecutors are doing shabby work. They haven’t just started doing shabby work, they’ve been doing shabby work and I’m calling them to the carpet!”
He said investigators did their part, but that prosecutors dropped the ball.
“When police officers do great work and then the prosecution does terrible work, it’s just like, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” McClendon told WMC. “I’m upset, I want you to understand, because I know this family personally. He was a police officer in Forrest City getting ready to make the transition to West Memphis. And this young man lost his life with his daughters in his arms.”
A MOTHER'S PAIN: Mary Wilson, the mother of Forrest City Police Officer Oliver Johnson Junior, is devastated after learning the man convicted of killing her son could soon be free.
WHY the Arkansas Supreme Courted decided to overturn the conviction COMING UP on @3onyourside pic.twitter.com/2yn1iMLxvm
— Bria Jones WREG (@BriaJonesTV) March 17, 2023
The mayor subsequently met with newly-elected Second Judicial District Prosecutor Sonia Fonticiella and said he is hopeful that she will implement changes to ensure nothing like the botched prosecution of Parker happens again, WMC reported.
“She wants what I want, and that’s a safer West Memphis,” McClendon said. “She’s going to do everything she can to make sure that our prosecutors in the future can prosecute in a timely manner.”
It is unclear when Parker will be released.