The words of Sabina Rose O’Donnell’s accused killer pretty much say it all — the alleged confession to police of a young man suspected of rape and murder.
“I don’t like the whole thing. I shouldn’t have did it. I shouldn’t have put my hands on her. All over a bike,” said Donte Johnson in his confession after being arrested for the murder of O’Donnell in June 2010.
Jury selection began Monday April 30 in the murder trial of Johnson, who is accused of raping and strangling to O’Donnell to death for the bicycle she was riding. The prosecution says they have a lot of evidence — surveillance showing Johnson in the vicinity where O’Donnell was murdered, and DNA evidence linking him to the crime. Johnson’s defense says their client suffers from mental health issues that affect his ability to make decisions, and is trying to have his confession suppressed.
As of Tribune press time, the judge hearing the case, the Honorable Glenn B. Bronson, had refused the defense’s motion and will allow the defendant’s confession as evidence.
The murder of O’Donnell was one of the 306 homicides in Philadelphia in 2010, but O’Donnell belonged to a stratum more visible to mainstream society than the mostly invisible young Black males who gun each other down almost every day.
She was a young, very pretty girl, an aspiring actress, model and dancer. She was a high school graduate from Franklin Learning Academy who worked at the trendy burger restaurant PYT. She was going places. By contrast, her accused killer Donte Johnson dropped out of William Penn High School in the 10th grade. Unlike O’Donnell, there is no Facebook picture album of Johnson, no photos showing him as an aspiring athlete, or winning awards — no photographs depicting what his hopes for the future were. In fact, the only pictures made public of Donte’s aspirations for the future were his mug shot, and those captured on surveillance camera showing him riding around in circles at 4th and Girard, looking into parked cars, allegedly waiting for someone to rob at 2 a.m.
He’s recorded following Sabina, who passed him by on another bicycle until he’s off camera. Two young lives that fatally intersected that night left one dead and the other at a dead end. O’Donnell was 20 years old when she was murdered. Johnson was 18.
According to police reports, O'Donnell left a friend’s house after 2 a.m. on June 2, 2010, borrowing the friend’s bike to get home to the nearby apartment she shared with her stepfather, Mark Rounds. Surveillance video released by the Philadelphia Police Department showed an unidentified man circling the area through which Sabina would ride. The next morning, a local resident discovered her naked body in an empty lot near her home. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled to death with her own bra.
Investigators collected a great deal of forensic evidence from the crime scene, including DNA form the person who raped her. Homicide detectives arrested Johnson on June 16, 2010, charging him with O’Donnell’s murder after his mother, Syreeta Johnson, turned him in.
It was originally thought that Johnson would take a plea agreement offered by the District Attorney’s Office — life in prison instead of the death penalty. He eventually rejected the offer, choosing instead to take his chances with a jury. The District Attorney’s Office last week decided against pursuing the death penalty in the case, but if convicted of first degree murder, Johnson still faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The trial of Donte Johnson continued Monday May 7 with prosecutors resting their case and the defendant making the decision not to testify.
Defense attorneys for the defendant are also expected to conclude their case, with the jury receiving their instructions from the judge sometime today.
Johnson, 20, is accused of raping and murdering Sabina Rose O’Donnell on June 2, 2010. Gary Server, Johnson’s defense attorney, has been calling his client’s confession into question, arguing that Johnson suffers from mental dysfunctions and may not have understood all of the details of what he was doing. Johnson decided not to testify, and defense counsel backed off a motion to call in character witnesses to attest to Johnson’s non-violence and peacefulness. Their reason was it would open the door for the prosecution to cross examine those witnesses regarding a 2010 charge against Johnson for simple assault. In that case, he was adjudicated delinquent.
Server also cross-examined Detective Thorsten Lucke, who took Johnson’s confession, and Detective Frances Kane, the lead investigator on the case. Server repeatedly asked questions regarding samples of long hair that were found on O’Donnell’s body. One hair was identified as animal hair; the others were human hair — one of which had a root. It was to be analyzed for DNA, but there was a question if it was ever sent.
“I don’t know,” Kane replied. “You’ll have to ask the criminalistics lab.”
But there was no question that Johnson’s semen was found on Sabina’s body. And Johnson admitted to putting her in a choke hold, saying that at one point she couldn’t breathe — that she was gasping for breath before she became unconscious. When Johnson was asked how the victim’s bra managed to be around her neck, Johnson allegedly replied it was probably him.
“That was probably from me trying to take her bra off,” Johnson allegedly replied. Lucke said Johnson seemed evasive and unwilling to go into too many details.
At one point during the proceedings, Assistant District Attorney Richard Sax put Sabina’s best friend Marie Rodriguez on the stand, asking her about the last hours she spent with the victim. In a testimony that bordered on tears, Rodriguez told the jury what they did that night and how she felt about her friend.
“She was the kind of person that made me want to do better,” Rodriguez said. “She helped get me a job at PYT. That day we got off work and got some pizza. We sat across from my house eating and just talking about life. We were just hanging out, you know? We laughed, we talked and we invited some friends over. We went out to eat and just hang out — the only argument we had was whether to eat inside the restaurant or outside. We ended up eating outside. We had a glass of wine and went back to my house. I fell asleep around 1 a.m. When I woke up Sabina was sitting in the chair. Normally she slept over, but I had a huge pile of clothes on my bed and I slept on the couch.”
Sabina asked her friend if she could borrow her bike to get home. Rodriguez said yes and that was the last time she saw her friend alive.
The trial of Donte Johnson, the man accused of raping and murdering Sabina Rose O’Donnell in 2010 concluded this week with the defendant being found guilty by a jury of his peers.
Johnson, 20, was found guilty of first degree murder, rape and related charges and immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus another 40 to 80 years by Judge Glenn Bronson.
Prosecutors successfully argued that Johnson brutally raped and murdered O’Donnell on June 2, 2010. Her body was found in a vacant lot behind her Northern Liberties apartment. Johnson told police that he had followed her with the original intention of stealing her bike. According to Johnson “things got out of hand” and ultimately the attempted robbery ended with O’Donnell’s rape and murder.
“My heart continues to go out to Sabina’s family and friends,” said District Attorney Seth Williams following the guilty verdict. “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. I am extremely proud of ADA’s Richard Sax and Gwenn Cujdik, both of whom did an extraordinary job of prosecuting this case. I also want to commend the Philadelphia Police Department for their quick and excellent work in arresting Donte Johnson. At only 20 years old Donte Johnson will now have to spend the rest of his life behind bars dealing with the consequences of his terrible actions.”
In an unrelated criminal investigation police have arrested a West Philadelphia man suspected of having committed several robberies at local restaurants.
On May 8, 2012, Torin Myer was arrested for multiple robberies. On April 26, 2012, at 9:35 p.m. the suspect entered the Green Line Cafe, located at 4426 Locust Street and allegedly demanded money from the employees. On April 30, 2012, at 4:29 p.m. and again on May 4, 2012, at 5:30 p.m. the suspect allegedly demanded money from an employee at the Green Line Cafe located at 3649 Lancaster Avenue. On May 6, 2012, at 10:15 p.m. the suspect allegedly robbed the Chipotle restaurant located at 3925 Walnut Street. The suspect was armed with a handgun during all four incidents.
On May 7, 2012, members of the Southwest Detective Division met with the Drexel University Police Department and distributed surveillance stills. On May 8, 2012, a Drexel Police captain was on patrol when he observed a male fitting the description of the offender in the surveillance stills. After an investigation, the male was identified as the suspect responsible for these robberies.
Myer, 23, is from the 3900 block of Baring Street. He is charged with robbery and related offenses.