Austin jury deliberating after watching fatal stabbing on video


Highlights

Jurors deliberated for more than six hours Thursday, but did not reach a verdict

Prosecutors said Johns’ actions in the attack were not that of someone who was defending himself

A surveillance video captured in high definition a fatal roadside altercation that led to a man being stabbed to death in East Austin in the summer of 2016.

But a Travis County jury appears to be having trouble deciding if Steven Johns, 19, should go away to prison for a long time or if he was justified in killing 25-year-old Joseph Lapaso.

The jury deliberated for more than six hours into late Thursday afternoon, but had not reached a verdict by 5 p.m. and was sent home by State District Judge Clifford Brown. Jurors must either convict Johns of murder or acquit him; there are no lesser charges to consider.

Video footage from a smoke shop on Montropolis Drive shows Lapaso climbing out of his gold Toyota Camry through the driver’s side window to confront Johns about 10 a.m. on July 1, 2016. He is stopped by Johns’ girlfriend, who testified she tried to get Lapaso to cool down and leave after he became upset over something Johns did or said to him as he drove by.

Meanwhile, Johns, who was down the street, moved briskly toward Lapaso and the two exchanged words. Johns took a three-inch knife out of his left pocket and transferred it to his right hand behind his back. He then moved his girlfriend out of the way to get a clear shot at Lapaso and made an upward stabbing motion that investigators said pierced the man’s heart.

Lapaso fled by foot across the street and Johns gave chase, stabbing him twice more — once again in the chest, and in the back. Eventually, Lapaso broke free from his attacker and rested against a pole before his body went into convulsions. He collapsed and was transported to a hospital where he was declared dead.

There were no weapons found on Lapaso.

In closing arguments Thursday morning, prosecutor Rob Drummond said Johns’ actions were not indicative of someone who was defending himself, but rather “a cold blooded” murderer.

Johns’ lawyers said Lapaso’s tattoos and height advantage over Johns made him a threat. But Drummond mocked that assertion, saying if tattoos and size are fair grounds for killing someone, “I’m going to be the only person alive in Travis County because I’m short and I don’t have tattoos.”

Johns’ lead attorney, Joe Sawyer, called Lapaso a “thug” who was “his own damn victim.” He added that because the video does not include audio, there’s no way of telling what Lapaso might have said to spark the confrontation.

Johns’ girlfriend failed to show up to testify, but at an earlier proceeding — a trial from two weeks ago that ended in a mistrial — she took the stand and said Johns was high on K2 at the time of the attack.

If convicted, Johns, 19, faces up to life in prison.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Cedar Park holding public meetings about stormwater drainage proposal
Cedar Park holding public meetings about stormwater drainage proposal

Cedar Park is holding town hall meetings about a proposal to create a stormwater drainage and street repairs program. The proposal would reallocate one-fourth of the revenue from the Economic Development Sales tax to the program, a press release from the city said. If the money was reallocated, the program would receive about $1.57 million annually...
Austin police officer fired 4 months after federal indictment
Austin police officer fired 4 months after federal indictment

An Austin police officer was fired today, four months after a federal grand jury indicted him on a charge of making a false statement to a U.S. agency in the midst of his wife’s Social Security fraud case. Officer Roosevelt Granderson II was fired, not because of the charges, but because he did not attend two separate Internal Affairs...
Police: Georgetown woman lied about income to get free healthcare
Police: Georgetown woman lied about income to get free healthcare

A Georgetown woman was accused of falsely claiming she had no income when she applied for health benefits, an arrest affidavit said. Zona Nelson, 65, was charged with theft by deception, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Officials with the Williamson County and Cities Health District told the sheriff’s office they...
Defendant called 911 after injuring boyfriend, jury hears
Defendant called 911 after injuring boyfriend, jury hears

Attorneys representing both sides in a Travis County murder trial agree Stephen Sylvester died in July 2015 at the hands of his boyfriend after they fought, following a night of drinking in downtown Austin, in the apartment they shared. But prosecutors are calling Sylvester’s boyfriend, Bryan Canchola, a jealous murderer who flipped out...
Travis DA clears officers in 3 shootings, without grand jury review
Travis DA clears officers in 3 shootings, without grand jury review

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said Tuesday that she will not pursue possible charges against officers in three police shootings as part of an overhaul in how she handles such cases. Her decision to use “prosecutorial discretion” and end such investigations marks the first time in years that an Austin police officer&rsquo...
More Stories