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Teen bound over on murder charge in East Topeka wreck

Darren M. Johnson was bound over for fleeing police officers, first degree murder and second...
Darren M. Johnson was bound over for fleeing police officers, first degree murder and second degree murder.(Shawnee Co. Sheriff's Office)
Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 3:40 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A 19-year-old will face jurors after he was bound over this week in the death of one man while fleeing police officers.

Following the preliminary hearing on Wednesday, Darren Matthew Johnson was bound over on charges of felony first-degree murder, an alternative charge of second-degree murder, fleeing and attempting to elude, and aggravated robbery, Shawnee County District Court Judge Steven Ebberts said.

The murder counts were charged in the death of Ricardo J. Rodriguez, 20, on June 22, 2020, in an East Topeka intersection.

The slaying victim was listed in the charging complaint as Ricardo J. Rodriguez. Rodriguez, 20, was a Topekan.

The body was found in the passenger seat of the stolen car.

Johnson pleaded not guilty to the four charges.

On Wednesday, victim Kale Sutton, 23, testified Johnson awakened him with a phone call about 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on June 22, 2020.

Johnson asked Sutton for a ride to pick up some clothes for Johnson, Sutton first said no, but he eventually agreed and drove to the 400 block of S.W. 33rd Terrace to pick up Johnson.

Johnson and a male juvenile came out to Sutton’s car.

The two later forced Sutton to the ground, robbed him of a wallet, $56, keys and a phone, Sutton testified.

The juvenile held a gun to Sutton’s head and pistol-whipped Sutton with a 9mm handgun, Sutton testified.

“If you move or flinch, we’ll shoot you,” Sutton testified one of the two said before they drove away with his 2011 Kia Soul.

During the preliminary hearing, the judge viewed a series of police Axon video clips.

The robbery on June 22, 2020, of Sutton, had been reported to police, who were watching for the Kia.

At S.E. 21st and Indiana, officer Justin Good saw the car, which was traveling westbound at high speed, and Good tried to stop it.

The Kia soon wrecked, and police drew pistols and what appeared to be a carbine.

“Get on the ground now! Put hour hands behind your back!” an officer ordered. One man who had been in the Kia was lying on the ground.

“Crawl toward me! Do it now!” an officer yelled. A man in a red shirt crawled toward the officer.

In the background of the Axon footage, a second man can be seen crawling in a different direction toward another officer.

Police spotted a third person lying inside a wrecked vehicle, who an officer said appeared to be dead.

Johnson was one of the two survivors in the heavily damaged car.

Good testified he saw a black handgun lying in the street where Johnson had been lying.

The second man in the robbery was a juvenile and wasn’t identified on Wednesday during the Johnson preliminary hearing.

After the testimony and at the request of Johnson, his attorney, KiAnn Caprice, asked the judge to lower Johnson’s $1 million bond to a $10,000 bond, which would include Johnson undergoing house arrest.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Dunbar opposed decreasing the bond to $10,000 “due to the seriousness” of the case, saying the $1 million bond is appropriate.

Caprice noted that Johnson has had one juvenile offense.

The judge denied Johnson’s request for a lower bond, noting he was concerned about the level of the offenses and the safety of the public.

Johnson next will appear in district court on January 28, 2021.

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