MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A man convicted in a Crittenden County murder will go free after the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday reversed and dismissed his conviction for the shooting death of an off-duty police officer, ruling that his right to a speedy trial had been violated.
Demarcus Donnell Parker was convicted in 2020 of first-degree murder and other charges on April 28, 2018, for the shooting death of Oliver Johnson, 25, in West Memphis.
Parker was sentenced to two life sentences, plus 835 years. He is listed by the Arkansas Department of Corrections as an inmate at a maximum-security facility in Tucker, Arkansas.
Johnson, a Forrest City police officer, was at home in the Meadows Apartments when a vehicle drove by and fired about 40 shots at a group of people, according to witnesses. A stray bullet killed Johnson as he sat inside with his daughter, family members said at the time.
Parker, who was an occupant in the vehicle, was arrested a few days later.
According to court documents, a trial date was set for Jan. 2020. A series of delays related to the pandemic continued the trial until August. Parker was convicted Sept. 9, 2020.
The Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas criminal procedure requires defendants be brought to trial in 365 days. Parker made a motion for dismissal after 405 days and had been held 846 days before his trial, justices said.
“This case is not about guilt or innocence. It is not about whether we believe a defense attorney over a judge or a prosecutor. This case is about our well-established rules governing speedy trial,” Justice Rhonda K. Wood wrote in the concurring opinion.
Hours after receiving the news, Johnson’s mother broke down, saying she felt like justice had been snatched away from her.
“Mane, I am hurt,” Mary Johnson said. “Mane, I want to go where my son at. I’m ready to go where my son at because I’m tired of living because I’m tired of these folks constantly not taking this serious, not getting justice for me, my family.”
Former West Memphis Police officer Joe Baker, who led the detective division at the time of Parker’s arrest, said he was disappointed in the outcome.
“It’s very troubling that such a tragic incident was brought to a close with an arrest and violent criminal taken off the street only to have an issue like this to release this person back to society. No way this should’ve been missed on this case,” Baker said.
Johnson’s grandmother Mary Cole said the courts failed them.
“Yeah, it’s a shock. The system ain’t no good. That’s it,” she said. “When you take a life you supposed to get a life. He need to get the electric chair.”