Charges against Espey in 2011 slaying dismissed


909 Dodson Ave.

909 Dodson Ave.

Police had a video recording of the death of Herbert Strickland in 2011. They had a woman who identified a suspect at the scene of the crime.

But videos are not always clear, and witnesses die.

On Thursday, prosecutors dismissed a first-degree murder charge against Antonio Dejong Espey Jr., 20.

Police interviewed witnesses shortly after Strickland, 53, was shot four times in the head inside the Big K Food Market at 909 Dodson Ave. on May 19, 2012.

Officers showed a photo lineup to witnesses, but no one could identify the shooter.

But Barbara Johnson, 45, later told police she saw a man she thought looked like Espey go into the store. She heard gunshots and saw him leave.

She didn't see a gun.

With that information, police searched Espey's home and collected clothing and a hat.

That evidence and the video recording were sent to the state crime lab to be analyzed.

There was no gunshot residue on Espey's clothing. The video didn't show the shooter clearly. Nothing, not even Johnson's recollections, conclusively linked Espey to Strickland's death.

On July 6, 2012, Johnson was shot and killed while walking on Rawlings Street at 4 a.m. There has been no arrest in her death.

On Aug. 24, 2012, Espey was released on bond pending trial.

Espey's attorney, Dan Ripper, said his client appreciated that prosecutors took their time to review his case and all of the evidence before taking it to trial.

Ripper said the case showed "a prosecutor doing his job the way he's supposed to do his job."

A review of the evidence and Johnson's original testimony showed "that there was nothing here to try," he said.

Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston said Friday that prosecutors exhausted all evidence and witness testimony with the help of police and were ethically bound to dismiss the charges when they determined there was not a case to take to trial.

The charge was dismissed "without prejudice," meaning if new evidence is uncovered Espey could be charged again.

Contact staff writer Todd South at 423-757-6347 or Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.