Chester man could get new trial

CHESTER -- A 28-year-old man convicted of voluntary manslaughter five years ago was brought back to Chester County last week after an unexpected court ruling in his favor.

An appeals court upheld a judge's decision to overturn Ravin Johnson's conviction because of lawyer ineffectiveness, according to court records. That means he could get a new trial.

Johnson was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2002, court documents show. He pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in connection with the 2000 shooting death of 17-year-old Jonathan Mackey but was convicted of the lesser charge. Johnson claimed the shooting was in self-defense, court records state.

On the night of Nov. 3, 2000, Johnson was driving his cousin, Ezekiel Darnell, away from a party when they saw Mackey and a woman, Danielle Hughes, walking down the street, according to court records. Although neither Johnson nor Darnell knew Mackey, they incorrectly thought they knew Hughes and called to her as they passed by, the records state.

Mackey seemed to respond to the men, but they couldn't hear him because their music was too loud, according to court records.

"As they were backing up, they realized that Mr. Mackey was cursing at them and angry," the document states. "Mr. Mackey then pulled a gun and began shooting at Mr. Johnson and Mr. Darnell. Mr. Mackey shot at least twice and possibly as many as five times. One bullet shattered the rear passenger window and lodged in the seat back of the rear seat.

"Mr. Johnson ducked, and Mr. Darnell fell over to his left. Mr. Johnson shook his cousin but got no response. Mr. Johnson reached under his seat, removed his licensed hand gun, and fired a single fatal shot at Mr. Mackey."

Johnson was arrested the day after the shooting, records show.

A trial judge dismissed the murder charge but allowed a case for voluntary manslaughter to proceed.

After his conviction on the lesser charge, Johnson filed an appeal, claiming that charge should have been dismissed because of insufficient evidence, according to court records. The appeals court upheld the jury's decision.

Johnson then sued the state, asking for what is called post-conviction relief. He claimed his lawyer, Chester County public defender Yale Zamore, was ineffective, citing among other things that Zamore didn't ask for the dismissal of the voluntary manslaughter charge and failed to challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution's evidence in a motion for a new trial, court records state.

Zamore could not be reached for comment Monday.

Post-conviction relief lawsuits often are filed but rarely are successful, legal experts say.

An order overturning Johnson's conviction was signed by Judge Kenneth Goode in 2005, but the state appealed the decision.

Court papers filed last week indicate that the S.C. Court of Appeals denied the state's appeal on Aug. 30.

Johnson was transported to the Chester County Detention Center on Thursday, the same day the documents concerning his overturned conviction were filed at the Chester County Courthouse.

Kathrine Hudgins, the attorney who represented Johnson in his lawsuit against the state, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Johnson is being held without bond at the Chester County Detention Center.