A Denver jury convicted a man of second-degree murder Wednesday for giving a 14-year-old boy permission to shoot at a woman with an AR-15-style rifle after a fender-bender two years ago.
Jurors concluded Neshan Johnson, 20, was responsible for the death of 32-year-old Pamela Cabriales even though investigators believe the 14-year-old actually fired the fatal shots.
The jury agreed with prosecutors that Johnson, an established gang member, gave the teenager, an aspiring gang member, permission to open fire. Defense attorneys argued Johnson never gave permission and that 14-year-old was out of control and acted on his own.
Johnson was convicted of three less serious charges than he originally faced after a seven-day jury trial in Denver District Court and about one day of deliberation by jurors.
He was charged with first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree murder with extreme indifference and attempted first-degree murder, but was only convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and attempted manslaughter.
He also was convicted as charged of attempted assault, being an accessory to a crime and vehicular eluding in connection with the Feb. 20, 2021, incident.
Johnson did not appear to react to the guilty verdicts Wednesday, but a family member of his in the gallery had to be escorted from the courtroom after an outburst in which he threatened jurors, hit his head on the wall, cursed and screamed in apparent agony.
Members of Cabriales’ family cried and gasped after the verdict was read.
On the night of the killing, Johnson, who was then 18, and two 14-year-old boys were stopped at a red light on West Colfax Avenue at the intersection of Interstate 25 around 10:45 p.m. when Cabriales pulled up behind the trio and lightly bumped into their vehicle, testimony at trial revealed.
After the fender-bender, one of the 14-year-olds, who was armed with an AR-15-style rifle, looked at Johnson, who was driving, and asked, “Can I bust on them?” Johnson told police. One witness testified that Johnson answered the teenager’s question by saying, “Yes.” Johnson told police he said only, “It don’t matter” and, “It’s on you.”
“He was washing his hands of this foolishness,” defense attorney Nancy Holton told jurors during closing statements Tuesday. “He did not aid. He did not abet.”
After that exchange, the 14-year-old stepped out of the car with the AR-15-style rifle and fired eight shots into Cabriales’ SUV, striking the woman in the head, testimony revealed. She died several days later.
“(The teenager) got out of the car and proceeded to bust on Pamela Cabriales,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Courtney Johnston said during closing statements Tuesday.
The 14-year-old, who is now 16, was also charged with first-degree murder; that case is pending in juvenile court. The Denver Post is not identifying the teenager because he is a juvenile.
Prosecutors alleged during the jury trial that the 14-year-old boy hoped the shooting would earn him membership in the Eastside Crips, and that he boasted to police after the shooting that he “was gonna get his stripes.”
“Why did she lose her life?” Johnston said during closing statements. “…It’s even sadder and more tragic than we could possibly imagine. It’s so that (a) 14-year-old could get his stripes. And we know that because that is exactly what he told the officer.”
Holton maintained the shooting was not connected to gang status and that Johnson did not have any authority over the boy, who she described as “violent for no reason” and “out of control.”
“(The 14-year-old) was already steps ahead of any authority by Neshan Johnson,” Holton said. “(The 14-year-old’s) daddy was an OG. An original gangster. He already had lots of clout. He didn’t need anyone’s permission.”
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