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COVID-19 outbreak in jail delays 3 murder cases

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Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 11:49 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Three unrelated murder cases in which six men are defendants will be delayed at least two weeks due to scheduling complications tied to the COVID-19 outbreak in Shawnee County Jail.

To cut possible exposure to COVID-19, inmates housed at the Shawnee County jail won’t be transported to the nearby Shawnee County Courthouse to appear in court hearings.

The target date to resume in-person appearances in court by defendants is scheduled to be September 25.

The first of the six defendants, Lavonte Deshone Johnson, was scheduled to appear at a pre-trial hearing on September 10, according to Shawnee County District Court records.

Johnson, 22, is charged with premeditated first-degree murder, felony first-degree murder and criminal discharge of a firearm, a felony, according to court records.

Earlier in the case, a witness testified Johnson fired a rifle, striking Joaquin McKinney, 16, and fatally wounding him.

The shooting occurred on July 25, 2019, on S.E. 37th near Adams. Two other teens also were in the Johnson vehicle.

In the second case on September 11, Tyron R. Michael, 22, and Daravian L. Ryce, 26,  were to appear in a preliminary hearing in the death of Jo’Heem M. Meredith, 18, according to court records.

Meredith was a Topeka West High School senior when he was shot and killed in May.

Michael and Ryce were charged with first-degree murder, intentional second-degree murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated assault, aggravated burglary, and criminal possession of a firearm, according to court records.

The third case was to have been a two-day preliminary hearing of three men.

The defendants are Charles Melvin Wilson II, 47, Michael Flores, 25, and Vincent Dean Gonzalez-Rook, 22, according to court records.

The preliminary hearing was to have been on September 18 and 21, which would have been on a Friday and a Monday.

Wilson was booked into jail in connection with premeditated first-degree murder; Flores was booked into jail in connection with involuntary manslaughter and simple battery; and Gonzalez-Rook was booked into jail in connection with premeditated first-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm by a felon, according to jail records.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, courtrooms in the Shawnee County Courthouse have been changed to deal with the virus.

Anyone entering the courthouse must wear a mask.

A witness is seated in a witness stand with plexiglass on several sides, and once he or she finishes, the judge or another court employee wipes down the area to sanitize it.

The defendant and defense attorney sit at separate tables, and if they need to talk about the case, they notify the judge, and walk to the jury room to confer outside earshot of others in the courtroom.

Shawnee County Department of Corrections staff members think the COVID-19 outbreak among the jail inmates stemmed from a visitor or a staff member, Department of Corrections Director Brian Cole said September 10 during an interview with WIBW 13NEWS.

From that one person, mass testing identified another 17  people as having COVID-19, Cole said.

On Friday, a total of 18 people who tested positive for COVID-19 were in quarantine in one module at the corrections facility at 501 S.E. 8th.

None have been hospitalized.

On Thursday, jail officials had listed the number of inmates with COVID-19 as 19, but they corrected that number to 18 on Friday.

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