Coronavirus cited in bid to toss death penalty in slaying

August 2, 2020 GMT

YORK, Pa. (AP) — A defense attorney is citing the coronavirus in asking a Pennsylvania judge to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the case of a man charged in a shooting death inside a movie theater last year.

Attorney Jon White argued in a hearing last week that the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered his ability to prepare an effective death penalty defense for Anu-Malik Johnson, the York Daily Record reported.


Johnson, 21, is charged with first- and third-degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangering and related offenses in the Dec. 2 shooting of 22-year-old Andre White Jr. at Regal Cinemas 13 in West Manchester Township.

White acknowledges that he has been able to have other contact with his client such as speaking on the phone, though he’s concerned about the confidentiality of those conversations. But he said Thursday it’s vital for all members of his team, including the investigator and mitigation specialist, to have direct access to Johnson.

“Death is different. We have known that for years,” said White, quoting late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. “It is Mr. Johnson who suffers in this situation.”

A prison official called by prosecutors testified that there was no time when Johnson’s attorney could not either meet with his client in-person or via video conference.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Chuck Murphy argued that the court process has essentially been put on hold to preserve Johnson’s rights.

“At no time has the defendant been rushed to trial,” Murphy said. “He’s not being rushed to do anything.”

Witnesses have said White had briefly spoken with Johnson and another man as he headed to his seat, but Johnson later approached the seated victim and shot him. Police say a female bystander was shot twice as the gunmen fled. The other man is charged with hindering apprehension and other counts.