SIDNEY – Troy Delano McRae Jr., 34, of Sidney, is on trial in Shelby County’s Common Pleas Court after he was 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. His trial began, Monday, and is expected to last through Thursday.
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.
On Tuesday, the second day of the trial, jurors heard from BCI Special Agent Tyler Price; Sidney Police Detective Kevin Macke; Sidney Police Detective Aaron Wesbecher; Sidney Police Capt. Detective Jerry Tangeman; McRae’s stepmother, Latisha Matthews; McRae’s father, Troy Delano McRae Sr.; and Montgomery County Coronor Dr. Lee Lehman.
The bulk of the testimony received was from Tangeman and Lehman.
Tangeman testified on the overall investigation, the assessment of the crime scene, the witnesses contacted and both interviews conducted with the defendant. Recordings of those interviews were played in court. The second interview was requested by McRae, during which he told police of another person who may have committed the murder. Police had already ruled out that suspect because he was wearing an ankle tracker, and he was not near the victim during the time of the murder.
Tangeman also testified on McRae’s being left-handed and also having a deep healing cut on his hand, which was in keeping with the Sidney Police theory that the assailant injured himself, leaving blood on the crime scene. McRae was arrested 10 days after the murder, which would have allowed the cut to heal to the same degree.
“It supports my belief of what I saw on the scene,” Tangeman said. “Lance was in a struggle for his life in a one-sided attack.”
Jurors also listened to a recording of Johnson’s speaking with his brother on the evening of the attack. Johnson’s brother was incarcerated at the time of the conversation, which is why it was recorded.
“I’m sorry, somebody’s here,” Johnson says on the recording, and a muffled voice is heard in the background. Tangman testified that he believes that voice is the voice of the murderer, but it was not clear enough to help with identification.
Lehman, the coroner, testified about the cause of death and what the other knife wounds on Johnson’s body seemed to indicate. He said Johnson died from two stab wounds to the heart, and the other eight wounds are consistent with a left-handed attacker or defense from a left-handed attacker.
Lehman also testified that Johnson had THC in his blood at the time of his death, which was consistent with other testimony that Johnson smoked marijuana and sold drugs.
McRae’s father testified that he saw his son in the week after the incident, when the defendent and his girlfriend were leaving the older man’s house.
“He gave me a hug and said, ‘Dad, I’ll see you,’” McRae Sr. said. “One of our friends was telling us he may be going back to Jersey. After a few days, I figured out he wasn’t around.”
On the first day of the trial, jurors heard from Sgt. Robert Jameson, of Sidney City Police Department. He 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.
Testimony from McRae; McRae’s girlfriend, Aisha Martin; Johnson’s sister, Joshlyn Haithcock; and several others is still to be heard.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.