Knoxville News-Sentinel – Questions remain in Johnia Berry’s death. This an important new source of information in the case and is worth reading in its entirety. Here’s a summary with comments.
The biggest revelation is Olson’s original statement to police. It matches what always seemed to me like the most likely scenario in that crime-plagued neighborhood. Someone walking up the back steps of the apartment complex, trying doors to find one that was open, then exploring the house for something to steal. That would fit with the stolen CDs found outside the back door by the kitchen, the murder weapon being a knife from Berry’s kitchen, and the blood trail going out the back door.
Olson, who had a history of arrests that stretched back to his teenage years, told authorities he lived in December 2004 with a friend, Noah Cox, at Warren House, a complex just down the road from Berry’s apartment at Brendon Park.
Olson said he and Cox spent the night before Berry’s death drinking stolen beer, smoking marijuana and breaking into cars. He said they got split up in the rain and that he went wandering along Brendon Park’s back porches, looking for an open apartment door and hoping to steal a pair of car keys.
Olson told a vague story of stumbling into an apartment by the light of his cell phone and accidentally waking someone up.
“It was so dark. … I was looking for some keys and then, and someone said, ‘Who are you’ or ‘What are you doing’ or something … then I heard like a yell and I just felt a pain,” he told investigators in a Sept. 23, 2007 interview. “I just freaked out. … I didn’t see a face or anything. … I got (the knife) away, and it didn’t seem like I stabbed anybody, it seemed like a fight or something, and then I just ran.”
Olson initially claimed he acted alone. Later he changed his story, claiming it was Cox who stabbed Berry. However, investigators found no forensic evidence of a second person in the apartment and Berry’s roommate Jason Amiyami saw only one intruder.
One mystery in the murder is how Olson got cut. Olson’s statement that he was stabbed first is interesting, because it would imply Johnia initially had the knife for self-defense. Because Olson is a suspect his statements don’t automatically get the benefit of the doubt, so it’s hard to say how much faith to put in his what he told the police. Note, for instance, the statement that there was a “fight or something.” In reality, according to her roommate Berry was stabbed “too many times to count” in an encounter that lasted some 30 seconds. (See the 2005 MetroPulse article for a contemporary account.)
The News-Sentinel article goes into detail about the Atlanta Braves ballcap found at the scene and its possible significance.
Despite the lack of forensic evidence, Allen said one thing in particular still troubles him – the Atlanta Braves baseball cap found on Berry’s bed. The hat belonged to a neighbor of Berry’s whose car was broken into that rainy night.
That neighbor, Brian McLemore, reported two caps stolen, along with a stereo and CDs. Investigators found them at the apartment – except for the other hat.
“The hats may have been taken to shield (from) the rain,” Allen wrote. “Two hats missing (but only one found) infers that two suspects were present, at least for the auto burglary, and then by implication during the homicide.”
Allen’s memo and interview transcripts show Olson and Cox became unusually concerned about who wore the hat that night.
The information above may clear up one minor mystery in the case. At least one of the stolen CDs had the letters “ML” written in marker. Everyone assumed those were initials, but McLemore may have used those letters to mark his CDs.
More information about Cox, the man Olson accused of killing Berry:
Like Olson, Cox had a history of theft arrests. Even prosecutors agreed he made a better match for the sketch and the roommate’s description than Olson.
“A chill went up my spine when I saw the resemblance,” Isaacs said. “I challenge anyone to look at the mug shots of Taylor Olson, Noah Cox and the composite sketch and draw their own conclusions.”
Aymami, the roommate and sole eyewitness, proved less decisive. He told authorities he couldn’t identify either man as the one who stabbed him.
Records show Cox’s name surfaced in the case through rumors long before Olson’s. KCSO officers questioned Cox 22 days after Berry’s death. He denied the crime and turned over a DNA sample that didn’t match. He showed no signs of a fight – no cuts, no bruises.
|Olson Mugshot||Cox Mugshot||Police Sketch|