DALLAS - A Dallas County jury began deliberations in the case of a former Farmers Branch police officer convicted of murdering a teenager.
Ken Johnson testified in his own defense on Monday. It was the first time the former officer explained his actions during the off-duty confrontation that left 16-year-old Jose Cruz dead.
Nearly two years ago, Johnson was off-duty and chased down two teenagers he saw breaking into his car. He rammed his SUV into their car and began shooting, killing Cruz.
“To be honest, I was a little angry,” Johnson testified. “Not a little angry… I was pretty upset.”
The jury began deliberating Monday afternoon and have a lot to consider when their work resumes Tuesday. First, was it a crime of sudden passion? — meaning did Johnson commit the murder in the heat of the moment. If the jurors all say yes, then Johnson faces anywhere between 2 and 20 years in prison. If not, Johnson could face up to life in prison.
Johnson testified he ran up to Cruz's car and emptied his clip through the driver side window, firing 16 rounds into Cruz's car. That killed him and severely injured his passenger, Edgar Rodriguez. Johnson maintains he thought Cruz was reaching for a gun.
“I just fired. I didn’t want him to come back up and shoot at me through that window,” Johnson said. “When he took his hands off the steering wheel and reached down, that’s when my heart jumped out of my chest.”
In closing arguments, Johnson’s attorney asked the jury to conclude that it was a crime of passion.
Under cross-examination, the state pushed back, questioning why no witnesses heard Johnson tell the teens to show their hands.
Prosecutor Jason Hermus also brought up a 2002 incident when Johnson was serving in the Army. Johnson was accused of pushing his then-wife and ordered by his commanders to leave their home for three days. He failed to disclose that incident when applying for both police jobs at DART and Farmers Branch.
Cruz’s family was also in the courtroom. His sister said that there isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t think about her big brother. His mother broke down when she saw a picture of her son.
“He was always smiling,” she cried.
The judge had to order a short recess afterward because Cruz’s mother became inconsolable on the witness stand.
Jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes before being sent home for the night. They will resume Tuesday morning.
Johnson faces anywhere from two years up to life in prison.