TAMPA — Photos revealed Tuesday how terribly Jennifer Johnson died. They showed her stripped nearly naked, bruises covering her face and chest, her arms and legs, even the soles of her feet. They showed a ring of bruises around her neck.
But the story behind those bruises hasn't yet been told to the jury in the death-penalty murder trial of the man accused of killing Johnson — Vincent George Brown, 41, the father of her then-2-year-old daughter.
What jurors do know is that Johnson, 31, disappeared after going out with Brown the night of Nov. 14, 2008, a Friday. Jurors have been told she later made a 911 call to a Plant City dispatcher from the trunk of her car. The call was dropped. Her body was found in the garage of a derelict house in Lakeland four days later.
But in two days of testimony this week, the jury has not been given a guide to how all that fits together. They have not seen physical evidence that places Johnson in the trunk of her car or places Brown at the murder scene.
The strongest pieces Tuesday were the words of Brown himself.
The evening after Johnson's disappearance, Brown showed up in her 1996 Infiniti at a neighborhood party in Ybor City, people at the party testified.
The partygoers said they had already heard Johnson was missing. She had not shown up that day for her toddler's birthday celebration. Friends had driven around looking for her. They had gone to Brown's parents' house, where they found in the driveway one of the hoop earrings Johnson had worn the night before.
When Brown showed up at the Ybor City party, Vadry Hayes, an old friend, said he asked him, "Where's Jennifer?"
He said Brown stuck his arms out, pointed both thumbs down, and made a raspberry noise with his lips.
Hayes and others said they weren't alarmed until after Brown left and they found a message he recorded on his cell phone voicemail. Jurors heard the recording:
"I did what I had to do, and it's done. Y'all will probably never see me again. Just don't forget about me."
Brown's defense attorneys say the message had nothing to do with Johnson. They say he planned to turn himself in for a probation violation the next day and was saying goodbye. He did in fact surrender at the Orient Road Jail that Sunday.
Still coming in the state's case are an autopsy report, results of a rape exam of Johnson's body and DNA and fingerprint tests from the crime scene.
The trial before Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente resumes at 8:30 a.m. today.
John Barry can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3383.