Man guilty of voluntary manslaughter

December 08, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD


After nearly four hours of deliberations Wednesday, a Washington County Circuit Court jury found Boni Facio Aramburo guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the April 5 shooting death of Terrance "T.J." Johnson in a Noland Village courtyard.

The jury of seven men and five women found Aramburo, 21, not guilty of his the serious charge, second-degree murder, in Johnson's death. Johnson was shot once in the heart after he jumped into a fistfight between Aramburo and Ernest Davis, aka "Poncho," shortly before 8 p.m. in Court 4 of the Hagerstown housing complex.

Aramburo's attorney, Stephen H. Sacks, said his client fired a handgun in self-defense. The jury was instructed about the elements of self-defense and what they must consider in order to find Aramburo not guilty on those grounds.


Voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence, is an "imperfect self-defense," Assistant State's Attorney Mark K. Boyer said after the verdict was read. The conviction means jurors believed Aramburo was defending himself but intended, unjustifiably, to kill Johnson, Boyer said.

Jurors found Aramburo guilty of first-degree assault, a conviction that carries a maximum 25-year sentence, and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony, which carries a mandatory minimum five-year sentence and a maximum of 20 years. Aramburo was found guilty of three lesser offenses, including possession of crack cocaine.

Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley ordered a pre-sentence investigation for Aramburo, despite his lack of a criminal record. Aramburo, whose address before his arrest was 209 E. 11th St. in Ranson, W.Va., was ordered to remain at the Washington County Detention Center on no bond.

In his closing argument, Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael first asked the jury, "Was it right, was it responsible, was it reasonable for this defendant to turn Terrance Johnson into a body on a slab - shot in the heart - in light of the extraordinarily minor injuries to the defendant?

"He was able to run away from these events after they happened. Terrance Johnson was not, never will," Michael said.

Michael told jurors that the handgun used, a .22-caliber Smith & Wesson, was seven inches long and Aramburo fired it between 3 and 6 inches from Johnson's chest. He said Aramburo had to apply "15 pounds of pressure" on the trigger in order to fire the blast.

Aramburo testified Tuesday that when he saw the gun on the ground, Johnson was on his back. He testified, "As soon as I picked the gun up off the ground, the gun shot him."

In his closing argument, Sacks told jurors, "You have the right to defend yourself. Why would two men try to force my client to the ground? What are they gonna do next?"

He argued that Davis continually approached Aramburo throughout the evening, but each time Aramburo ignored threats made over his girlfriend and Davis' ex-girlfriend, Tiara Parson.

"The state would have you believe my client was looking for a fight, that he was so cold-blooded, " Sacks said. " ... The irony of the story is who threatened who."

Sacks said that when Johnson jumped on Aramburo's back, he did "not get involved in the fight as a peacemaker." Sacks went on to describe how Aramburo, faced with a second "aggressor," was "almost down to one knee" when he spotted the gun.

"If you've been attacked by two people, now what are you gonna do?" Sacks asked, discounting Michael's theory that Aramburo could have taken the weapon and kept it from the other men. "There's a gun in your hand, they've been beating you. If they use the gun on me, then I'm gonna be dead."

Michael said in his argument Wednesday, "There was nobody on his back because we know his fist had to be 10 to 13 inches away when he pulled the trigger."

Michael drew jurors' attention to Aramburo's size, saying it doesn't make sense that a man of his stature - 5 feet 10 inches and 250 pounds - couldn't find other ways to fight off Johnson, who was about 5 feet 8 inches tall and 135 pounds, and Davis, who was slightly larger than Johnson.

"It's not reasonable to think you're gonna get killed in a fistfight in the middle of a crowded street," he said.

If Aramburo truly believed he would be killed, he could have asked Parson, who was standing feet away from him, holding her infant son, to "call 911" or he could have "called for help," Michael said.

"How can a few scrapes on your noggin equal killing a man?" Michael asked the jury. "The law requires that before you use deadly force, that you run, but he didn't."

Michaels said, "If he could get the gun off the ground, then he could get away. After the defendant had this gun, he has control over the situation."

Michael alleged that Aramburo took off after the shooting because he knew he had committed murder. He pointed out that Aramburo lied about his involvement in the shooting to police when he was taken into custody.

Sacks said, "Yes, my client ran. Yes, my client got scared. Yes, he lied to police. Yes, he was scared to death. People do what is necessary to provide their own security. All he knows is that he's in a terrible situation."

Johnson's family declined to comment after the verdict.

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