Family Looks Forward to Retrial

Article excerpt

Seventeen years after he was convicted, Terrell Johnson will be retried next week for a brutal gangland-style murder in Hazelwood that he and his family adamantly say he didn't commit.

Johnson, 37, has been in state prison since a jury convicted him of the fatal 1994 shooting of Verna Robinson, 30, who was the first person in the city's witness protection program. She was killed three days before she was scheduled to testify against a "Hazelwood Mob" gang member.

Family, friends and supporters formed the "Justice for Terrell Johnson" campaign, rallying on his behalf countless times since a judge handed down a life sentence in 1995. About 30 supporters turned out again Wednesday at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

"The last 18 years have been really difficult," said Johnson's wife, Saundra Cole, 47, of Hazelwood. "It has been a test because our children are grown."

An Allegheny County jury convicted Johnson primarily based on the testimony of Evelyn "Dolly" McBride, who said she saw Johnson shoot Robinson on a Hazelwood Street on July 21, 1994, said Bret Grote, an investigator and organizer with the Human Rights Coalition-FedUp! The Human Rights Commission is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that works to ensure proper treatment of prisoners and help wrongfully convicted inmates.

McBride, however, didn't tell police she had been witness to the murder until two weeks later, after she had been charged with theft and was facing up to 50 years in jail, Grote said. …