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Johnson v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

January 15, 2019

DONALD JAMAR JOHNSON
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF HENRICO COUNTY James S. Yoffy, Judge

          Linda R. Scott (Linda R. Scott, PLC, on brief), for appellant.

          Brittany A. Dunn-Pirio, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief) for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Beales and AtLee Argued at Richmond, Virginia

          OPINION

          RANDOLPH A. BEALES, JUDGE

         Donald Johnson was convicted of pandering and of sex trafficking to receive money, and was sentenced to a total of twenty years of incarceration with thirteen years suspended. In this appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence for both convictions and alleges the trial court abused its discretion in its sentencing.

         I. Background

         "Under familiar principles of appellate review, we will state 'the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party in the trial court, and will accord the Commonwealth the benefit of all reasonable inferences fairly deducible from that evidence." Sidney v. Commonwealth, 280 Va. 517, 520 (2010) (quoting Murphy v. Commonwealth, 264 Va. 568, 570 (2002)).

         S.B., who admitted that she was a prostitute, testified that she had known Johnson (whom she identified at trial as "Soprano") for approximately seven years. She testified that on November 14, 2016, Johnson drove her and E.E., another woman, from Charlotte, North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia. Once the three arrived at a Best Western hotel in Henrico County, S.B. posted an advertisement on Backpage.com advertising her prostitution services. She discussed the advertisement with Johnson, who sat next to her as she used her cell phone to post the advertisement. She subsequently engaged in prostitution with five or six "clients." S.B. testified at trial that, after each client paid her, she placed the money she had been paid in the Bible that was located in the hotel room. After S.B. placed cash in the Bible, Johnson entered the hotel room and retrieved the cash. She admitted at trial that she had worked as a prostitute before she met Johnson - and that she continued to work as a prostitute without Johnson's help after he was incarcerated.

         As part of "Operation Innkeeper," Officer Robert Woodburn of the Henrico County Police responded to S.B.'s Backpage advertisement via text message. Woodburn was directed to the Best Western hotel. Officer Tony Rose of the Henrico County Police arrived at the specified Best Western hotel in an unmarked vehicle and in plainclothes. Rose was met in the parking lot by E.E., who escorted him to room 427, where he encountered S.B., who was completely naked, and a male who was partially dressed. Rose identified himself as a police officer and detained the male, S.B., and E.E. Inside the room were clothes and a used condom on the floor, as well as wet wipes and packages of condoms. Police also discovered cash inside of a Bible in the nightstand. After being arrested, S.B. informed the police that her pimp was in room 430 of the Best Western and that his white Mercedes was in the hotel parking lot.

         When the police arrested Johnson in room 430, they found $2, 010 in the room - as well as an additional $1, 900 cash on him. The police also conducted a search of Johnson's Mercedes, pursuant to a warrant. In the Mercedes, police found, among other things, a bill of sale for the Mercedes to Johnson, condoms (of the same brand and type found in room 427), and a purse containing an ID and other items belonging to E.E.

         At trial, Johnson denied taking or receiving money from S.B. He testified that he "had no real dealings" with S.B. and only gave S.B. a ride from North Carolina to Virginia because he and E.E. were making the trip together and E.E. "was the one that brought along" S.B. He testified that he was staying in room 430, where the police found him, at the invitation of a friend and denied that the $2, 010 in cash found in the room belonged to him, stating he did not know who was the owner of that cash.

         Johnson was charged with and convicted of pandering, pursuant to Code § 18.2-357, and of sex trafficking to receive money, pursuant to Code § 18.2-357.1. Johnson was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison with six years suspended for pandering and to ten years with seven years suspended for ...


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