Prosecutors move ahead despite missing victim in 2015 attempted murder trial

Prosecutors move ahead despite missing victim in 2015 attempted murder trial

August 17th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

A very important person has been missing from a 33-year-old man's attempted murder trial this week in Hamilton County Criminal Court — the alleged victim.

Prosecutors told Kadarius Johnson they planned to call him to the witness stand this week because he gave information to the police that led to the arrest of Osei Sorrell on Sept. 23, 2015.

"I personally served Kadarius Johnson with a subpoena on Aug. 10, 2017, at the Hamilton County Probation Office," an investigator for state prosecutors wrote Tuesday, referencing the court document that requires someone to report to court as a witness.

But come Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., when Sorrell's trial began, Johnson was nowhere to be found. Prosecutors promptly sought a warrant for his capture. And though they reached him on the phone Wednesday, Johnson refused to come in, forcing prosecutors to continue Sorrell's trial without the main victim and witness present.

Osei Hakeem Oba Sorrell

Osei Hakeem Oba Sorrell

Johnson's absence has had a mild effect.

On Tuesday, prosecutors agreed to reduce Sorrell's attempted first-degree murder charge to attempted second-degree murder, his defense attorney, Joshua Weiss, said. Sorrell, who also faces aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, is accused of shooting Johnson in the head from behind the wheel of a white SUV during a car chase that wound through downtown Chattanooga on Sept. 23, 2015.

Weiss told jurors Tuesday that prosecutors barely mentioned Johnson during opening statements for a reason.

"Because there's no motive in this case, there's no nexus," Weiss said. "At previous court hearings, when [Kadarius Johnson] was looking Mr. Sorrell in the face, he says, 'I've never seen him before.'"

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So far, though, prosecutors haven't solely relied on Johnson's testimony to make their case.

Using 911 calls, officer testimony and other witnesses who described the vehicle shoot-out, they have painted a picture of what happened: Johnson was shot in the head during a car chase that started near 500 E. Third St. Johnson gave officers a description of his shooter and his shooter's car at the hospital. Then, using his clues and other corroborating witnesses who described seeing a stocky man in a white SUV chasing a dark sedan, officers found Sorrell in a matching vehicle at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and High.

Prosecutors are also expected to call a ballistics expert, who will testify that a .22-caliber shell casing recovered around Third Street matched the .22-caliber gun that police found under Sorrell's driver seat.

A Chattanooga officer said he spotted Sorrell's white SUV with large rims after the department released a "be on the lookout" alert for it. Sorrell, who was sitting alone in the car, said he didn't have any guns and consented to a search. Sorrell was arrested after officers located a couple of ammunition magazines, some $100 bills and a .22-caliber semi-automatic gun, which an officer said he found near the gas pedal.

Weiss told jurors Sorrell had a concealed carry permit for the firearm, which he forgot was in the car, and no other prior charges in Criminal Court. Weiss can't present any evidence until prosecutors finish presenting their case, but so far he has nitpicked some of the state's witnesses over inconsistent details about the car chase.

The trial continues today before Criminal Court Judge Don Poole at 9:30 a.m.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.