Judge dismisses murder charge in death of Goshen man

  • Creatas  Creatas

The Berkshire Eagle
Published: 10/2/2019 11:23:36 AM

PITTSFIELD — A Berkshire Superior Court judge has dismissed the five-year-old murder case against Laquan Johnson, who was accused of shooting and causing the death of a Goshen man in Pittsfield.

After the prosecution rested its case Tuesday morning, Johnson's defense attorneys Calvin Carr and Merritt Schnipper moved for a finding of not guilty by Judge Michael Callan. The judge granted the defense motion without objection from Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Joseph Yorlano, according to court officials; two key prosecution witnesses in the case never presented their testimony.

Johnson, 24, was immediately released after the judge's ruling.

Schnipper said it was a "no-brainer" to ask for a directed verdict without ever presenting a defense.

"They had no testimony connecting Mr. Johnson to the shooting," the defense lawyer said. "There was no evidence (Johnson) was involved in the physical act or he knew that a robbery was about to occur."

Johnson had pleaded not guilty to accusations that he shot Anthony Gamache, 29, in the leg during an anticipated marijuana sale in Pittsfield in 2014, which turned into a robbery. Gamache went to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton for treatment and was transferred to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, where he was treated and released with the bullet still lodged in his leg.

He collapsed and died the next day from what a medical examiner determined was a blood clot caused by the bullet wound.

In a statement, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said she was "disheartened by the outcome of the case."

"Justice has not been done, and Mr. Gamache's family deserves better," Harrington said. "I am proud of the trial team and members of law enforcement who worked on the case. They absolutely did everything that they could given the current state of the evidence."

Carr could not be reached for comment.

Immediate trouble

The state's case against Johnson immediately ran into trouble when the trial opened last week. On Friday, Judge Callan found that prosecution witness Dakota Moretti had a Fifth Amendment privilege against incriminating himself by testifying. He had been expected to give testimony regarding a conversation he reportedly had with Johnson regarding Gamache's death.

Moretti had contacted the court via letter, recanting his statements regarding that conversation, claiming that it never happened and that he was on drugs when he made statements about it.

Yorlano argued that Moretti was under arrest at the time and said it was possible, though very unlikely, that he would have had access to drugs at that point.

Last November, another state witness, Peter Campbell, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Gamache's death and was sentenced to up to six years in prison, also recanted his statements implicating Johnson as the man who fired the shot during the incident.

The prosecution had hoped Campbell would still testify against Johnson, but he refused, according to the DA's office.

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