Murder charges dropped in teen's 2013 shooting after witnesses change stories

Posted at 12:59 PM, Jul 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-19 12:59:08-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- Prosecutors dropped murder charges against a man accused of a teen’s 2013 murder last week after all of the witnesses in the case recanted their stories.

The decision is the culmination of a case that has dragged through Marion County’s courts for years, initially starting with the arrest of another teen, Demarcus French, in connection with the July 2013 murder of 16-year-old James Johnson.

Johnson was shot and killed on the playground at the Hawthorne Place Apartments on July 8, 2013. At the time, police believed he may have been lured there through social media.

French, who was 16 at the time, was originally arrested in connection with the case after two other people present during the shooting identified him as the shooter.

Those witnesses later recanted, saying they had conspired to blame French for what a fourth member of the group, Jabril Scruggs, had done.

Scruggs, 15 at the time of the shooting, was already facing charges for raping a female classmate at Lawrence Central High School earlier in the year. He was eventually convicted in that case and served seven months in the Indiana Department of Correction.

Murder charges against Scruggs were filed in September 2014, but dropped a month later.

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Prosecutors re-filed those charges in July 2016 after French provided a statement identifying Scruggs as the shooter.

One of the other witnesses then again changed his story, saying it was, in fact, French who shot Johnson.

French then subsequently refused to provide a statement under oath at a deposition in the case by asserting his 5th Amendment rights.

Without any remaining witnesses, and with no forensic evidence linking anyone to Johnson’s murder, prosecutors informed the court last Tuesday that they had insufficient evidence to proceed with the case. The charges were dismissed the same day.

Scruggs is currently serving a two-year sex offender probation and 10 years on the Indiana Sex Offender Registry.

French pleaded guilty in April 2016 to strangulation and criminal mischief in an unrelated case and was sentenced to 730 days in community corrections.  He pleaded guilty to charges of strangulation and resisting arrest in a separate domestic violence case in October 2016 and was sentenced to 523 days of probation and 26 weeks of batterer’s intervention program classes.

Marion County Jail records show French was arrested last month on a parole violation. He was sentenced Wednesday to 400 days on home detention. 

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