A Macomb County jury convicted a trio of defendants of premeditated murder of a 34-year-old Oakland County woman in 2017 in Warren.
Marcie Griffin, George Rider and Eric Gibson showed no emotion Friday when a jury forewoman announced the defendants were guilty of first-degree murder for the shooting death of Julii Johnson outside of her boyfriend’s condominium.
The verdict produced tears of joy from a group of Johnson’s family members and loved ones, some of whom attended the month-long trial in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens.
Johnson’s brother, Je’Mere Johnson, said the verdict has “lifted a weight off.”
“I believe in a higher power. I had faith. My family has closure now,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s mother, who was too upset about her daughter’s death to attend the trial, talked to her family over the phone Friday.
“My mom can heal now,” Johnson said. “She hasn’t left the house for two years since this happened.”
Johnson’s mother said over the telephone she appreciated the “diligence” of Warren police and Macomb prosecutors.
County Prosecutor Eric Smith said in a written statement: “Our entire staff today is grateful to the jury for carefully examining the evidence and delivering justice to Julii Johnson and bringing some form of peace to her family. A special thank you for the remarkable investigation done by the Warren PD and their tireless efforts on this case.
“This entire murder came about because of one woman’s enraged jealousy.”
The trio will be sentenced to life in prison without parole July 31 by Judge Joseph Toia.
Some 15 deputies attended the verdict, but there were no incidents among the defendants or family members of any of the parties.
Griffin’s attorney, Kevin Simowski, said he is disappointed in the verdict but is hopeful it can be reversed on appeal.
“I believe there are numerous issues that can be pursued on appeal,” he said.
The trial was long-anticipated as it occurred after many delays for a myriad of legal and other reasons. It included nearly 300 exhibits and more than 15 witnesses.
The deliberated about seven hours of two days following closing arguments that ended Wednesday evening.
The cases against Griffin, the ringleader, and Rider, the middleman, were circumstantial, while the case against hired hitman, Gibson, featured strong physical evidence.
Assistant Macomb Prosecutor Jurij Fedorak said during the trial Griffin, 48, of Eastpointe, hired Gibson, 26, of Detroit, to carry out the execution. Gibson shot Johnson seven times – once in the head – shortly before 7:30 a.m. Jan. 13 next to her vehicle, which was parked in front of Jim Lattner’s home near 12 Mile and Mound roads. Rider, 60, of St. Clair Shores and Huntington Woods, was getaway driver, Fedorak said.
Fedorak said Gibson discarded the murder weapon, a Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun, and a pair of gloves in weeds along a trail that led from Lattner’s subdivision to the nearby L.A. Fitness parking lot where Rider was waiting in a Nissan Pathfinder. Gibson’s DNA was identified on the gun and gloves.
Griffin’s text messages to Lattner and video of her showed Griffin’s extreme anger toward Lattner, the father of two of her children, for their breakup after 17 years and his two-year relationship with Johnson. Griffin made many disparaging and vulgar remarks about Johnson, and told Lattner things she discovered about Johnson.
Her anger appeared to ratchet up when she learned the couple went to Las Vegas over the New Year holiday and believed they got married.
Griffin was tied to Rider by text messages in the weeks before the killing. Rider was in the area of the crime scene the late afternoon the day before the incident, and cell phone data placed him and Griffin in the same area in downtown Detroit the night before.
The pair exchanged text messages two hours after the murder that appeared to reference the murder.
Rider wrote: “Good morning sunshine, today is a beautiful day. Friday the 13 th”
“LOL . . .”, Griffin replies.
Rider says: “I hope you understand!”
“Evrythg bout I undrsantd (sic),” Marcie says.
Gibson was never tied to Griffin but was linked to Rider. He worked for a company associated with Rider and was driving the Pathfinder, a company vehicle. Gibson and Rider were seen together in security video days before the shooting buying items from a Home Depot. Rider owned a pair of gloves identical to the recovered pair of yellow Cobalt gloves.
The defense accused the police of limiting their investigation to the threesome and tried to shift blame to other potential suspects: Lattner and his associates. Lattner is a convicted drug dealer and $533,000 in cash was found in his home while $12,000 in cash was found in his Ford F150 parked in his driveway.
He was allowed to refrain from testifying at the trial, claiming his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Lattner currently faces a federal gun charge due to a handgun found in his vehicle parked at his home.