Arson detective chokes while testifying at trial of Cleveland man accused of killing four people, including two children

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Investigators found gasoline on the carpet in the hallway outside the bedroom doors of two children who died in a fire prosecutors say Armond Johnson started after killing their mother in July 2019.

A pair of black, pink and yellow Nike sneakers seized by police from Johnson’s home also contained gasoline, prosecutors said.

Johnson is charged with aggravated murder, aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence and other charges in the July 8, 2019 murders of his 6-year-old son Armond Johnson Jr., 2-year-old Aubrey Stone and the children’s mother, Takeyra Collins at Collins’ home in Slavic Village. Johnson is also accused of fatally shooting a neighbor, David Cousin, who was outside as Johnson fled the house, prosecutors say.

Evidence presented on Friday, the third day of witness testimony in Johnson’s trial, focused primarily on the fire Johnson is accused of starting inside the home and featured testimony from a detective who said the children were alive when the fire died down.

The children died from smoke inhalation.

Johnson, 29, faces the death penalty if jurors find him guilty.

Investigators believe the crimes occurred around 10:30 p.m. on July 8 at the East 63rd Street apartment near Fleet Avenue where Collins and Johnson lived together for several months.

Both men got out before Johnson went to jail to serve a five-year sentence in 2014 after pleading guilty to felony assault and other charges in two separate shootings in East Cleveland. They rekindled their relationship when he was paroled in March 2019 and planned to marry, prosecutors said.

McCormick ruled Friday that jurors could see text messages from May that year in which Collins accused Johnson of shooting a gun at her while the kids were home and beating her.

Johnson did not deny the charges and apologized for “putting his hands on” Collins, the posts showed.

Jurors are expected to hear that evidence next week.

Cleveland Police arson detective Brian Kenney choked up as he told jurors that 2-year-old Aubrey’s bedroom was covered in soot except for the spot on her pink sheets where she slept.

Armond Jr.’s bedroom had no soot because his door was closed when the fire raged, Kenney said.

Cuyahoga County Assistant District Attorney Kristin Karkutt showed Kenney a photograph of long, thin streaks in the soot that covered the aisle side of Armond Jr.’s door and asked him what he had seen. He started choking again.

“That’s the approximate height,” Kenney said before stopping to collect himself. “That’s the approximate height of the little girl. And these are his fingerprints.

The bottoms of both children’s feet were covered in soot, a sign that they had walked on the blackened carpet outside their bedrooms, Kenney said.

Collins was shot 10 times, including one in the back of the head and three in the back, and was dead before the fire started, Cuyahoga County Assistant Medical Examiner Joseph Felo said Friday. There was no smoke, soot or carbon monoxide in his body.

Kenney testified that someone poured “liquid accelerant” on a pile of laundry in Collins’ bedroom, set it on fire and then closed the door. The fire burned so hot that the metal handle inside the bedroom door partially melted and fell to the ground, he said.

A state fire marshal brought a K-9 trained to sniff out the accelerators to the house, and the dog found evidence of gasoline spilled in several places inside the bedroom, including the bed, as well as in the hallway, outside the children’s rooms.

Kenney said a second fire was started in a large lounge chair in a corner of the living room. Photos showed that all that was left after the fire was the charred wooden frame.

Kenney said the house’s new double-glazed windows wouldn’t break, which prevented oxygen from outside from entering and fueling the fire to engulf the entire house.

A fire debris analyst at the state fire marshal’s office testified that carpet samples taken from the Collins’ bedroom, the hallway in front of the children’s room doors, the rug in front of the couch, and several items of clothing throughout the house have all tested positive for gasoline.

Detectives found a red plastic gas can in Collins’ bedroom.

Karkutt said in opening statements that investigators found Johnson’s DNA on the gas can handle and Collins’ blood on his sneakers. Cellphone data also shows that Johnson’s phone rang on the towers near the Slavic village on the night of the murders. Johnson was living in Cleveland Heights at the time.

Testimony is expected to wrap up next week.

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