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.