This article, updating Defender readers on the cases of Joshua Johnson and Darius Elam, originally ran on October 27, 2021. However, Defender coverage of these two cases of potential gross injustice began in June 2020 (Joshua Johnson) and July 2020 (Darius Elam), respectively. Johnson was killed under extremely suspicious circumstances in April 2020 by a member of Houston-area law enforcement. Elam has been in prison for 30 years though no evidence exists linking him to the crime for which he was convicted, and the “witness” who testified against him, recanted, saying Elam was completely innocent. This article is a very worthy #ThrowbackThursday addition because in both cases, justice is still being denied.
Decades before April 22, 2020, the day 35-year-old Joshua Johnson was shot and killed by Harris County deputy Tu Tran, Darius Elam was convicted of a crime for which no physical evidence exists linking him to the crime.
Elam has been in prison for 39 years, yet is just as adamant today about his innocence as he was when initially arrested. Johnson can’t speak for himself, but his parents Wilhemina and Richard Beary, along with family spokesperson James Hudson, have continued to demand justice for Joshua.
In both cases, however, justice has been delayed, to say the least.
RECAP OF CASES
In 2020, the police killings of Ahmaud Arbery (Feb 23), Breonna Taylor (March 13) and George Floyd (May 25) made national news. Johnson’s killing, however, failed to garner national attention even though Tran, who shot and killed Johnson, gave an account of events through Sheriff’s Department spokesmen that was vehemently refuted by what several residents of the 15000 block of E. Ritter Circle assert they saw.
Yet, a grand jury failed to indict Tran.
Prior to his incarceration Elam, who had no criminal past, relocated to Houston from Chicago to attend TSU on a track scholarship. Moreover, he was married with newborn twins, along with another child.
According to his brother Samuel, Darius, being a good Samaritan, gave a co-worker, Clarence Richardson, a ride home. While in route, they stopped at the Galleria where Richardson used an altered credit card of Richard Bowen, who was found on May 7, 1983 on Rice University’s campus with a fatal gunshot to his head.
Both men were charged with credit card abuse though Samuel and Campbell assert he knew nothing of the credit card. Even more maddening for Darius supporters, Richardson served three years, while Darius received a murder charge, though he was convicted of aggravated robbery.
The two deciding factors in Darius’ conviction are shaky, to say the least, according to Campbell: a mystery sheet of yellow paper that was not seen by two separate crime scene investigators or the 28 crime scene photos, yet it appeared 90 days later with Darius’ print, supposedly found in the victim’s truck—after the truck had been returned to the victim’s family; and a jailed informant’s testimony that he later recanted.
“Richardson offered to buy Darius some shoes by putting it on his credit card,” said Tammie Lang Campbell, founder and executive director of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation, the group that has been at the forefront of seeking Darius’ release from prison since taking up the cause three years ago. “Darius had no idea Richardson was using a credit card that was not his own.”
A store clerk alerted police that Richardson was using a credit card not his own leading to not only Richardson but Darius also being initially charged with credit card abuse.
“Richardson spent three years in prison, while Darius received an additional murder charge, though convicted of aggravated robbery, and remains incarcerated,” said Samuel.
Campbell and Samuel Elam stress Darius’ conviction was based on testimonies from jailed informants, and a reported fingerprint on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of lined, yellow paper that was not initially included in the original evidence log, and was reportedly found by an investigator six months after the original evidence was logged.
“The two crime scene investigators made a listing of evidence, and neither listed this yellow, lined paper. Yet, 90 days later an officer said he found the paper in the vehicle that had been given back to the family. But there are 28 crime scene photos, and none show this paper,” said Samuel, who believes officers got the paper from Darius’ backpack and planted it in the vehicle.
According to Campbell, the jailed informant whose testimony was critical to Darius’ conviction, recanted and wanted to provide an affidavit to the Honey Brown Hope Foundation to that effect.
“The informant fabricated a story about Darius confessing to the crime to get himself out of trouble. But when they contacted him 38 year later, wanting him to confirm his initial testimony, he told HPD, ‘Look, I’m a changed man. That man (Darius) never said anything about killing or robbing anybody,” she said, adding that the informant also told her he was threatened by HPD with aggravated perjury.
Campbell said the informant then contacted her foundation because he heard they were advocating for Darius’ release.
“He told me he feared for his life and was seeking legal protection. Then he said, ‘Ms. Campbell, I lied on Darius when I was in jail because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison.” go to jail for life.
When Darius requested DNA post-conviction testing, the Houston Police Department (HPD) reported that it destroyed the questionable sheet of paper, the only piece of evidence HPD destroyed. Also, in 2014, post-conviction DNA testing dismissed Darius as a DNA contributor to the remaining evidence items, meaning no physical evidence links Elam to this crime.
Yet, he remains incarcerated.
“I talk to my brother nearly every day, and basically, he’s in fight mode,” said Samuel. “I don’t think he’s feeling sorry for himself to the extent where he’s getting depressed about it. He’s just in fight mode. He knows he’s innocent.”
The wheels of justice stalled for Darius in Judge Joshua Hill’s 232nd District Court of Harris County. Darius’ writ hearing seeking the court’s recommendation to drop the charges based on 2014 post-conviction DNA testing that dismissed Elam as a DNA contributor, was held on July 12, 2019.
“The Court had until Dec 2, 2019 to render a decision as to whether the judge deems by brother not guilty of the crime and this case should be overturned, and get that to the Court of Appeals,” said Samuel. “It’s been almost two years now, it’s almost Dec 2021, and we’re still waiting.”
“We have documents to prove that what happened to Joshua Johnson was a coverup,” said Hudson.
Hudson says he has a 500-page report given to him and Congressman Al Green by law enforcement officials that he claims shows irregularities he compares to the Harding Street Raid “where 12 officers were indicted, six of them for falsifying documentation.”
“At some point, we’re going to release this document,” he added.
EDITOR’S UPDATE: The Defender has repeatedly sought to gain access to Darius Elam for a one-on-one interview, by initiating the first step in the process to be able to visit with Elam. However, the Defender has yet been able to garner a response from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice so we can meet with Elam at the institution where he is being held (The Darrington Unit in Rosharon, TX).
HOW CAN THE COMMUNITY HELP?
- Visit www.honeybrownhope.org to send emails and sign a petition to pressure Judge Joshua Hill to deliver his decision on the Darius Elam case to the higher court.
- Go to YouTube to watch the play about the Joshua Johnson killing entitled Chapel of Restoration: The Coverup.”
- Read articles on each case at DefenderNetwork.com and other places.
- Share information about both cases via social media
- Challenge media outlets to publicize and investigate these cases