McRae on trial for stabbing

SIDNEY – A Sidney man is on trial in Shelby County’s Common Pleas Court for an aggravated murder that occurred in March 2017 on North Miami Avenue.

Troy Delano McRae Jr., 34, of Sidney, is charged with stabbing to death Lance Johnson, 38, of Sidney, during a burglary of Johnson’s apartment on North Miami Avenue. McRae was indicted on March 30 for the stabbing, which took place on March 12, 2017, and has been held in Shelby County Jail on a $1 million bond since his arrest on March 22.

Johnson was found two days after his death in his apartment by his friend Ramone Howell, who testified before the court that he saw Johnson on a daily basis, and after a couple days without contact, he went to the victim’s house for further investigation.

“(Johnson) was a nice-going fellow, nice, kind, always had a smile on his face, helped others when he could,” he said. “His phone was dead, so I was concerned, stopped by his daddy’s house to tell them people need to get over and check on him. I looked in and saw him on the floor.”

Johnson was stabbed 10 times and found face-down in his apartment with a knife by his foot. That knife was not the murder weapon. His apartment was ransacked and in disarray, with law enforcement speculating that the assailant was looking for money or drugs, since Johnson was known to sell drugs.

Sgt. Robert Jameson, of Sidney City Police Department, testified about the crime scene, investigation, collection of evidence and testing of evidence. He showed the court a medicine cabinet taken from Johnson’s bathroom with a partial bloody fingerprint on the bottom corner, a bloody piece of toilet paper collected from the kitchen, Johnson’s boot, Johnson’s undershirt and many photographs of the body, apartment, blood splatters, drugs, overturned furniture, opened cabinets and the general mess left by someone searching through the house.

Jameson also testified about Facebook postings, recordings and the interview of McRae upon his arrest in March. He testified that McRae signed his Miranda rights with his left hand and had a cut on his left hand that was fresh. Prosecutors said that was the cause of the spread of his blood DNA around the crime scene.

Jurors heard opening statements and testimony from two other witnesses: Sidney Police Officer Nick Zimmer and Bobbie Zwiebel. Zwiebel lived next door to Johnson in the same building and recalled hearing a loud thud on the wall that separated his kitchen from her bedroom on March 12 after 9:30 p.m., while she was watching TV. She testified to hearing similar noises in his apartment before from Johnson’s dropping weights, but nothing that loud before.

“I turned the TV on and heard a loud noise on the wall like a thud. It had to be after 10 p.m.,” she told the 12 jurors. “It was clearly an impact against the wall, and it came from Lance’s apartment.”

Zimmer was the first officer on the scene and said he secured the building with Officer Cody Nelson while Sidney medics pronounced the victim dead at the scene.

“Medics came in, grabbed (Johnson’s) arm, feeling for a pulse, and indicated he was deceased at that point,” Zimmer testified.

Assistant Prosecutor Bill Zimmerman Jr. presented the prosecution’s opening statements and asked the jurors to approach the case like a puzzle, putting together circumstantial evidence. He said blood found in the kitchen, bathroom, in Johnson’s front pockets, boot and exterior handle of the apartment door all matched McRae’s DNA, as tested by the Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI). Zimmerman also said the defendant’s actions changed following March 12, from not showing up at work the following week to asking his sister if she would help him leave town. He was found by law enforcement in Lima in a resident’s closet.

“We implore you to institute justice for this community and Lance Johnson,” Zimmerman said to the jury.

The jury was selected from a pool of 50 Shelby County residents, with 12 jurors and two alternates. The trial is expected to last through Friday, with testimony still to be heard from McRae; BCI Agent Tyler Price; McRae’s girlfriend, Aisha Martin; Johnson’s sister, Joshlyn Haithcock; Sidney Police Capt. Detective Jerry Tangeman and County Coroner Lee Lehman, among many others.

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By Heather Willard

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825