Lead Story West Edition

Gang members sentenced in shooting over red shoes

LOS ANGELES — Two gang members were sentenced Nov. 30 to 50 years to life in state prison for the killing of a 19-year-old mentally disabled man who prosecutors said was gunned down near a South Los Angeles car wash because of the red shoes he was wearing.

“This was a tragic, callous and cowardly crime,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo said just before imposing the sentence on Kanasho Johns, 29, and Kevin Deon Johnson, 26.

The judge noted that Tavin Price was killed on May 29, 2015, because he was “wearing the wrong-colored tennis shoes,” she said.

Speaking directly to the defendants, Olmedo said, “Right now, you don’t fully realize the gravity of what you have done. … Perhaps one day you will understand the magnitude of what you did.”

The judge rejected the defense’s motion for a new trial, saying there was “more than sufficient evidence” to support the jury’s verdict.

Johns — whom jurors determined had personally used a handgun to kill the victim — was also convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon. The judge tacked on a three-year term for that offense.

The young man’s mother, Jennifer Rivers, said her son was shot to death “in front of my face,” calling him an “innocent person who never gang-banged in his life.”

“I cry every day for my son,” she told the judge, saying she remembered him telling her, “Mommy, I don’t want to die. Am I going to be all right? I can’t breathe. It hurts.”

Rivers — wearing a red T-shirt showing the word Justice in silver letters and a pair of red tennis shoes in honor of her son’s favorite color — said she knows her son is “looking down smiling.”

“Now he’s happy, one more and then he’ll be really happy and so will I,” she said, noting that she will return to court once more on Dec. 7 for the sentencing of a third defendant, Dwight Kevin Smith, who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and is facing 12 years in state prison.

“I wish [Johns] would have shot me instead of my son, really,” the victim’s mother said, asking the public for prayers for herself and her family.

“The pain that I have to go through every day is unbearable for a parent.”

She said she would have preferred for Johns and Johnson to have faced the death penalty, saying that “they don’t even deserve to be in prison” but that she is still pleased with the outcome of the case.

Jurors deliberated less than three hours before convicting the two of first-degree murder Oct. 24, and found true gun and gang allegations.

Deputy District Attorney Bobby Zoumberakis told jurors during the trial that Price “was not allowed to wear red shoes in that gang neighborhood.”

“Tavin Price was murdered because of gang pride, because the gang pride was more important than Tavin Price’s life,” the prosecutor said during his opening statement.

Both the prosecution and defense agreed Smith confronted Price in a smoke shop near the car wash in the 3300 block of West Florence Avenue, while Johnson stood nearby. That conversation and the shooting itself were caught on surveillance video, though there was no audio recording.

Smith identified himself as a gang member and said to Price, “Why are you wearing all that red? Where are you from?” according to Johnson’s attorney, Curt Leftwich, during his opening statement.

“I don’t bang,” Price replied, to which Smith retorted, “Come out of those shoes,” according to Leftwich.

Both sides also told jurors that Hilary Wade, who is the mother of Price’s nephew and was in the store with him, told Smith that the young man wasn’t a “gangbanger” and explained that he was “slow.”

A short while later, Price was standing by his mother’s car when a gunman fired four rounds at “this 19-year-old boy who did nothing wrong and ended him” with “no hesitation,” the deputy district attorney told jurors.

The prosecutor said an eyewitness who knew Johns identified him as the shooter, and Johns fled to Texas in an effort to avoid prosecution.

For his part, Johnson left the car wash, picked up Johns and drove him to the scene of the shooting, according to Zoumberakis.