After Johnny Clemons Jr. turned away an alleged murderer from his home, he said he was harassed, shot at least three times, chased through Atlanta, and handed a death threat just 15 minutes before testifying against the man police say is responsible for a recent homicide.
Still, Clemons took the stand Tuesday in Hamilton County General Sessions Court and said Courtney High, 25, fled to Atlanta and admitted to shooting and killing his 22-year-old cousin, Jerica Jackson. Meanwhile, six courtroom officers flanked High, who sat directly in front of Clemons.
"He was telling me this information thinking I could secure him," Clemons said, "by letting him hide down there. I didn't feel comfortable, I didn't feel what he'd done was right. Because if you'd murder your own cousin, you'd murder my cousin — your girlfriend."
After hearing from Clemons and two Chattanooga Police Department investigators, Judge Lila Statom sent High's charges to the grand jury on the same $1 million-plus bonds. Attorneys will deal with his aggravated assault and unlawful gun possession charges — which High picked up Aug. 9 after allegedly threatening his grandfather with a firearm — on Aug. 30, she said.
Tuesday's hearing, about an hour long, was tense and highly secured. High was charged with first-degree murder, reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, unlawful carrying of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during commission to commit a felony, which his attorney, Sam Lewis, and prosecutor Lance Pope agreed to drop Tuesday. Otherwise, Lewis focused his energies on gang affiliation and gathering information on the police department's investigation into High.
In an affidavit filed in Sessions Court, police described Clemons as "the witness."
According to the affidavit, High said he hid in the bushes on June 12 outside a home on the 4600 block of Trailwood Drive, waiting for Jackson to return. When she pulled into the driveway, High approached the driver's side of her SUV with a gun wrapped in a T-shirt. When High shot her multiple times, he described Jackson's body as "jerking," Clemons said.
In court, Clemons said High targeted Jackson, his cousin, because she was trying to set up someone in the Athens Park Bloods gang.
Clemons, a brother of Javario Eagle, the 24-year-old man fatally shot by police in December, used to be affiliated with the Athens Park Bloods.
But now, he said, he was trying to live a righteous life.
After the shooting, High's girlfriend called her cousin, Clemons. She was clearly concerned, he said, but wouldn't say why. She promised to open up once she arrived at his temporary home in Atlanta.
"It was daytime, the sun was out, it was pretty outside," Clemons said of that June afternoon.
Then he noticed his cousin getting out of a black Cadillac. High was with her.
"Why didn't you drive your car?" Clemons asked.
Then he learned about the killing of Jerica Jackson.
Two weeks later, High returned after Clemons had ignored has phone calls, he said.
They were talking outside when High handed him a phone, Clemons said. "I talked to my cousin. [High] was talking about what was I going to do.'"
"Click, click" was the next sound Clemons heard, he testified.
Clemons started running. High pursued, firing multiple shots.
At least three bullets struck Clemons in the buttocks and legs, he said. "I just kept on running, kept on running. Didn't hear no more gunfire until I ran around the corner and collapsed."
After Clemons went to the hospital, the police sent him back to Hamilton County for a probation violation, he said. From jail, he told police what they already suspected: He knew who killed Jerica Jackson.
After his testimony, Pope approached Clemons, who remains in custody at Silverdale Detention Center. Pope handed over a piece of paper, which Clemons said another inmate threw at him 10 to 15 minutes before the preliminary hearing.
"Did you receive a letter today while you were in the jail from Courtney High?" Pope asked.
"I didn't know who it was from," Clemons said, "but I did receive a letter."
After beating back the defense's objection to the letter, Pope asked Clemons to read it aloud.
"Hey blood," Clemons said, "I read that affidavitI don't know the mark you becomebut if you get on that stand or cooperate any further with these people, it's personal to us
"I love you as a brother, but don't cross the mob."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.