Andrew Dys

Why was Rock Hill murder suspect out of jail?

Latoya Cureton’s aunt Liz McKnight, left, addresses Rock Hill murder suspect Robert Johnson in court on Wednesday.
Latoya Cureton’s aunt Liz McKnight, left, addresses Rock Hill murder suspect Robert Johnson in court on Wednesday. adys@heraldonline.com

The signs on the doors leading into the Rock Hill Law Center are bold and clear – no guns allowed.

Guns maim and kill. Guns are one of the main reasons there are courthouses and prisons. Some people who use guns end up in court and then prison – except when they are released after serving just eight months of a 5-year sentence.

Cops in courthouses do not want guns anywhere except on their hips. They use metal detectors to check everybody who comes to court.

The Cureton family, more than a dozen strong, had to march through those Rock Hill Law Center doors Wednesday because of a gun. They were there for court, to see for the first time a convicted felon just 19 years old arrested so many times in his short life on gun charges.

This time Robert Daquan Johnson, an alleged gang member when arrested and convicted last year on weapons and conspiracy charges, is accused of shooting Latoya Cureton three times in the back with a .40-caliber pistol.

At one point in the summer of 2014, Johnson, just 17 years old, faced 21 felony charges, including two of attempted murder and several gun charges. Court papers showed he was to have no contact with gang members.

Johnson is barred by law from having guns because he is a felon, and for guns he was sent to youthful offender prison for a sentence not to exceed five years. Yet Johnson served just eight months of his sentence, and when he got out he allegedly got not one but two guns.

“He got out and he killed my niece,” said Cureton’s uncle, William “Q-Rock” Cureton, a Northwestern High School assistant football coach.

Johnson was re-arrested just 13 days after he was released from prison March 13, court records show, for illegally entering a building after he was on trespass notice, according to police and arrest records.

Johnson was on what is called “intensive supervision” for youthful offenders under the S.C. Department of Corrections. That means parole, said Clark Newsom, a corrections spokesman.

People on parole are supposed to be supervised and are supposed to advise the department when they are arrested.

However, Johnson did not have his supervision revoked in March, and it is unclear if his supervision agent even knew of the arrest.

Johnson also didn’t go back to prison in September – a month after Latoya Cureton was murdered – when he was arrested yet again on a charge of illegally possessing a weapon. This time it was a .22-caliber pistol in his pocket when Rock Hill police charged him, the court file at the Moss Justice Center in York shows.

Johnson, a convicted gun felon, walked out of jail the next day after posting a $10,000 bond.

He was not “revoked” from intensive supervision after the Sept. 7 arrest because up to that point he had been compliant with rules that included curfew, drug testing and other requirements, said Stephanie Givens, a corrections spokeswoman.

Police arrested Johnson again Sept. 30 at the hospital emergency room, after learning that state corrections officials had a warrant for his arrest for alleged violation of his release conditions, said Mark Bollinger, Rock Hill Police Department spokesman.

And now Johnson is accused of murder.

“Here is a person who has been arrested all these times, and turned loose again and again, on so many gun charges,” William Cureton said. “And now, he is arrested for killing my niece, with a gun. This time he didn’t just shoot at somebody. He killed somebody. She has a name. Latoya. Latoya Cureton.

“And now she is gone.”

Johnson’s record stretches back to when he was 16 years old. He was first charged in 2013 with gun possession, court and State Law Enforcement Division records show, then charged in an October 2013 armed robbery of 11 people near Winthrop University. Those charges were dismissed by a judge before a trial, in April 2014, citing no probable cause.

Johnson had been arrested in early 2014 – at a time police say he was in a gang in Rock Hill, involved in crimes targeting a different gang – on allegations that in late 2013, while just 17, he tried to kill a man on a Rock Hill street in a shooting. Then he was charged with another count of attempted murder from a December 2013 drive-by shooting into a house.

Johnson was allegedly in a conspiracy with Abbdul Emmanuel, a leader of a Rock Hill gang who a year ago pleaded guilty to many of the same crimes and was sentenced to 40 years.

But by July 2014 Johnson struck a plea deal and was sentenced to five years as a youthful offender. He received credit for the 173 days he was in jail. But apparently five years in South Carolina’s youthful offender prison for felonies involving guns really means eight months because Johnson was released March 13.

Less than five months later police say, he shot a woman three times in the back and left her behind a building on Green Street.

Liz McKnight, Latoya Cureton’s aunt, asked the judge Wednesday in Johnson’s first appearance in court on murder charges that Johnson not be given a bond. She got her wish, but it was moot – Johnson can’t get a bond from a city judge on a murder charge.

But when McKnight learned later that Johnson had at one time faced 21 felonies, and been in prison yet released, then arrested twice more, and almost always for guns, she was shocked. She was stunned.

All the Cureton family has left of Latoya is a picture that Liz McKnight and others wear as buttons pinned to jackets.

“This has to stop,” McKnight said.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065

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