ST. JOSEPH — Testimony got underway Tuesday afternoon in the murder trial for Antwan “Tank” Mims, with the fiancée of one of the victims taking the witness stand.
It is alleged that Mims, 40, shot to death Cortez Miller, 22, and Michael Johnson, 29, outside a house on Lavette Street in Benton Harbor last March 24.
Mims is charged with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder, one count of possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts of felony firearms. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted on the murder charges.
Keairra Crum of Indianapolis, formerly of Benton Harbor, said Michael Johnson had been her fiancé for about a year before he was killed. Crum told the court that she, Johnson and Miller all were at a party at the house on Lavette Street when she and Johnson got in a brief argument over another woman. She said the argument was followed by “chaos and confusion” and a few minutes later, she was sitting in the living room alone when she heard gunshots outside.
“At first I was stuck. Then I went outside. Michael had been shot. He had no pulse so I started CPR,” Crum told the jury. She said she saw just one person with a gun.
“It was on his hip and he was running away,” she told the jury. She testified that she could not identify the shooter, but she had seen Antwan Mims at the party.
Other witnesses testified that they did not see either Miller or Cortez, who were described as nearly inseparable, with a gun that night.
In his opening statement Tuesday in Berrien County Trial Court Judge Arthur Cotter’s courtroom, Berrien Assistant Prosecutor Jeffrey Taylor told the jury they will hear from a doctor who will say Johnson and Cortez both died of multiple gunshot wounds. He said both men had fatal wounds to the head. In addition, Miller had gunshot wounds to the arm and the middle of his back.
“You’ll hear from five or six people who were standing right there,” Taylor told the jury. “(Mims) continued to fire at both of them, even while they were on the ground.”
Mims’ lawyer, Eusebio Solis, will present a self-defense case.
“This incident didn’t happen out of the blue. There has to be some sort of history,” Solis told the jury in his opening statement. He said a year earlier, Johnson had tried to rob Mims and had since been harassing him. Also, he said, Mims had struck up a friendship with Michael Johnson’s girlfriend, and she had told him of abuse by Johnson.”
Solis said the person hosting the party on Lavette Street was a friend of Mims, and when Johnson and Miller showed up there, “Antwan is surprised. He’s leery of them.” Solis said Mims saw a gun in Miller’s waistband, and Miller shot first.
“The evidence will show a classic case of self-defense,” Solis told the jury.
Taylor said there is “a significant problem” with a self-defense claim.
“There’s not one person who will say Mr. Miller fired a gun inside that house and Mr. Johnson died being shot in the back of the head at point-blank range. Does that sound like self-defense? Shots through the head after they’re already gone?” Taylor asked the jury. “This is something far more sinister. It’s cold-blooded, pre-meditated execution.”
On the witness stand, Crum told the jury she did not have a relationship or friendship with Antwan Mims, and that she had never told him Johnson was abusing her.
Testimony was to resume this morning with cross-examination of Crum by Solis. The trial is expected to last into next week.
Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa