A guilty verdict has been issued to 20-year-old Donte Johnson, on trial for the rape and murder of 20-year-old Sabina Rose O'Donnell near 4th Street and Girard Avenue in Northern Liberties two years ago.
Though defense attorneys claimed Johnson had a mental impairment rendering his intelligence that of a grade-schooler and questioned DNA evidence,
a jury unanimously found that he trailed O'Donnell while she was riding home from a
friend's house, strangled her to death with her bra in a vacant lot
near her Northern Liberties apartment and stole her bike. Her partially-clothed body was found early the next morning.
Johnson told police that he had followed her with the intention of stealing her bicycle and that during the robbery "things got out of hand," according to the District Attorney's Office.
"We mapped out all the evidence," said jury foreman Charles Ramirez outside the Criminal Justice Center after he and others deliberated for about three and half hours over two days. "It was a clear-cut case. ... We were all unanimous, right from the beginning." He cited blood and DNA evidence, surveillance footage showing what appears to be Johnson following Sabina before her death and the location of her body as particularly compelling pieces of the puzzle.
"[The defense], they just talked about jargon, psychological and technical talk, not about the case," he said. Though he reportedly maintained his innocence before the judge, Johnson is charged with rape and first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 40 to 80 years.
Sabina's stepfather Mark Rounds, who tearfully hugged jurors outside the courtroom, said that while he didn't have thoughts to share about any part of the testimony or trial in particular, he was "just glad the police did their job as well as they did it and the Assistant District Attorneys did their jobs as well and as thoroughly as they did."
He said that, while he was not a fan of the death penalty, he was satisfied with the sentence. "I hope the rest of society is satisfied as well," he said.
"My heart continues to go out to Sabina’s family and friends," District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement. "I hope this verdict will give them
some sense of justice. Sabina’s brutal and senseless death was felt not
only by her adoring family and friends, but also by the Northern
Liberties community that she lived in."
"At only 20 years old Donte Johnson will now have will have to
spend the rest of his life behind bars dealing with the consequences of
his terrible actions."
When asked if justice was served, Rounds paused. "Not to Sabina," he said. "Justice was done to Donte Johnson."