James McDowell, age 30, of Gulfport, was found guilty by a Harrison County jury late last week of First-Degree Murder and Possession of a Weapon by a Convicted Felon. McDowell was charged with the shooting death of 25-year-old Deverick Johnson, which occurred on the evening of February 27, 2017, on Lang Avenue in Long Beach. The jury deliberated for slightly over an hour before reaching their verdict in the 4-day trial presided over by Second District Circuit Judge Lawrence Bourgeois.
During the four day trial, multiple witnesses identified McDowell as the person who shot the victim, Johnson, in the back of the head, while Johnson was seated in the front passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car. Johnson’s girlfriend, who was in the driver’s seat of the car during the shooting, testified that the killing was unprovoked, and McDowell and Johnson appeared to have a normal conversation moments before the shooting. After killing Johnson, McDowell fled the area in a black car while firing additional shots back toward the witnesses. The victim was declared dead on scene, and it was later determined he died from a single gunshot wound to the head.
While McDowell’s identity was initially unknown, the Long Beach Police Department responded quickly to the scene and was able to identify two co-defendants, Charity McDowell and Michael Taylor, as being in the car with him. Charity and Michael were arrested at Charity’s house that evening and provided information that identified McDowell as the shooter.
McDowell was arrested the next morning following a standoff at a house on Railroad Street in Gulfport. Police surrounded the house for hours but were unsuccessful in convincing McDowell to come outside. Eventually the Gulfport Police SWAT team made entry and found McDowell hiding under a pile of blankets.
When first questioned about the shooting, McDowell told Long Beach investigators that he was babysitting all day on the day of the killing. However, at trial, McDowell testified as part of his defense, changed his story and stated that he did in fact shoot Johnson, but claimed it was in self-defense. McDowell stated he thought Johnson was reaching under the seat to get a gun, and he thought Johnson wanted to rob him.
During cross examination by Assistant District Attorney Jason Josef, McDowell admitted giving a false name to police and hiding the murder weapon underneath the back porch at Charity’s house. “McDowell’s version of what happened that day was refuted by the forensic evidence as well as five witnesses to the shooting, including Charity and Michael, who were each convicted of Accessory After to Murder and testified at trial.
Both codefendants testified that all three of them had been smoking spice and taking ecstasy pills leading up to the murder.