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Friday, December 21, 2012

Sentencing Provides Details Into Grisly 2008 Murder of St. Louis County Counselor

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Page 4 of 4

While incarcerated, Cleophus King plotted to kill Assistant Circuit Attorney Rachel Smith
  • While incarcerated, Cleophus King plotted to kill Assistant Circuit Attorney Rachel Smith
Johnson pleaded guilty in August 2010 and agreed to testify against his former lover, King.

Yet despite Judge Ohmer's orders to keep them apart while incarcerated, they both ended up in the city jail. They exchanged notes -- called "kites" in jail lingo -- through a variety of methods, including the mail and laundry system. Some of these were in code.

In that correspondence, they agreed that Johnson would renege on his cooperation and that they would both try to beat the case. King threatened that he would "get at" Johnson if he got cold feet. According to Johnson and another jailhouse informant, King further discussed ways to have prosecutor Rachel Smith murdered.

King even expressed a desire to have Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce assassinated, according to Johnson's testimony in a March 2012 hearing.

Johnson failed to tell the prosecutors about any of this, even though he was supposed to be collaborating with them.

Prosecutor Rachel Smith felt this dark conspiracy violated Johnson's plea agreement. She tried to have it nullified. 

However, in a ruling last June, Judge Ohmer found that Johnson only behaved this way out of fear of his former boyfriend. At present, Ohmer concluded, Johnson is not scared of reprisal and will testify. That decision cleared the way for the sentencing on Wednesday night.

"I commend you in the sense of you taking responsibility for the tragic events that occurred," Judge Ohmer told Johnson, whose right hand shook as he clutched a tissue.

The judge continued: "You can't turn back the clock, and it never justifies what happened. But your family has been very supportive, they've been counseling you. And even if you leave prison -- I don't think you will -- it's still a huge first step to take responsibility, and that's what you've done."

At that, Johnson broke down sobbing, covering his face with his hand. Several members of his family also wept.

After court adjourned, Daily RFT spoke to Mark Meiners, the victim's brother and a St. Louis resident.

"We're glad to have it finally be over," Meiners said. "It's an appropriate sentence."

Although, in a sense, it's not entirely over: Cleophus King is scheduled for trial in August 2013. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. They're counting on the cooperation of Ronald Johnson.

Outside near the elevators, we caught up with Ron Freeman. He said he was Johnson's stepfather, and had known the young man most of his life.

"He got mixed up with the wrong people," Freeman said of his stepson. "That happens in life."

The same could be said, perhaps, of the late Luke Meiners.

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