TAMPA — Within minutes of reconvening Wednesday morning, the jury reached a verdict. More than a dozen bailiffs immediately took their posts.
Anticipating a rowdy reaction from murder victim Jennifer Johnson's friends and family, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente said he wouldn't allow outbursts — "no reaction, one way or the other."
But his admonition didn't stop the tears, the hands clenched in victory, the whispers of "thank you, Jesus" as the verdict was read: Vincent George Brown, 41, guilty of first-degree murder. Guilty of kidnapping.
"He got what he deserved," said Johnson's mother, Alma Dorsey Johnson.
Three years ago, Brown kidnapped girlfriend Jennifer Johnson, put her in a trunk and strangled her before putting plastic bags over her head, authorities said.
The most alarming clue in her disappearance was a desperate 911 call: "They have me in the trunk of my car," she shouted shortly before her death. "I don't know where I am."
She was found dead several days later in an abandoned Lakeland home.
During seven days of testimony, jurors learned about the couple's relationship.
They heard that Brown and Johnson were seen together shortly before her death on Nov. 15, 2008, and that Brown was seen driving Johnson's car afterward.
The jury deliberated for nearly five hours Tuesday before being sequestered in an undisclosed hotel. It's unclear what happened in the few minutes they had together Wednesday morning before they reached the verdict.
Outside the courtroom, Johnson's friend, Ruth Chico, said she believes Brown killed Johnson because she was planning to leave him. He was abusive, Chico said, and Johnson had finally gathered the courage to leave.
A witness had testified earlier Brown had said: "If I can't have her, nobody can."
Brown showed no reaction when the verdicts were read, which upset Johnson's family.
"He has no regret," Chico said. "He's just very cold."
On Saturday, the jury will decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison for Brown.
Johnson's family plans to return. Several will be able to stand before the jurors and say what made Johnson unique.
They'll describe how outgoing she was, how funny and witty she was. They want the jury to know she was popular, that she worked hard at a local factory, that she was a good mother and a great dancer.
"She was just a happy person," Chico said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.