LAWRENCEVILLE — Jason Dozier fired a weapon that night, but not the one that killed 15-year-old Nick Jackson.
Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Mike Morrison asserted as much Wednesday morning, as the trial for Dozier — the first of seven suspects to be tried for Jackson’s 2012 murder in Norcross — began in earnest. During his opening statement, Morrison said Dozier’s thumbprint was found on the magazine of a Kel-Tec .380 handgun tied to the home invasion at 310 Autry Street.
That weapon fired rounds during the robbery, believed fueled by rumors of Nick Jackson I’s drug and cash stash at the home, the prosecutor said. The fatal bullet, though, was allegedly fired from a different weapon by co-conspirator Anthony Lumpkin.
Regardless, Dozier and every other member of the crew that “formed in Atlanta like a storm” are liable for the murder, Morrison argued. He asked a jury comprised of nine women and five men to deliver a guilty verdict at the end of the trial, expected to last through most of next week.
“A verdict that delivers justice to a 15-year-old kid,” Morrison iterated.
Defense attorney Andrew Margolis claimed that his client “took no part in the planning of what happened” and argued against the state’s “parties to a crime” approach for filing charges. He wasted no time questioning the trustworthiness of upcoming witnesses, including the testimony of co-defendant Timothy Lamar Johnson.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Margolis said, “these are not nice people.”
On the night of his murder, Nick Jackson II was in his basement bedroom playing video games. Authorities believe Dozier was among four members of a six-man robbing crew that stormed the house in search of cash and drugs rumored to be kept in the home by Jackson II’s father, a now-convicted cocaine trafficker. The teenager was reportedly barricading his bedroom door when he was shot through the heart.
All six suspects were arrested shortly after the incident and just a few blocks away. A seventh man was arrested two months later. All were charged with murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, burglary and various weapons charges.
On Wednesday, the testimony-filled beginning of Dozier’s trial began to paint a better — if not controversial — picture of what happened before, during and after Jackson’s death.
A slow, steady formation
The alleged robbing crew was pointed toward the elder Nick Jackson’s home by a high school chum.
Thirty-nine-year-old Nick Jackson I, a contractor and developer, testified Wednesday that he had sold drugs off and on for years, but that he resumed Mexico-connected trafficking activities in full force when the real estate business hit rock bottom several years ago. In a good week, he and his cohorts would move as much as 20 kilograms of cocaine, an amount with a street value approaching $750,000.
Jackson had stash houses in DeKalb and Fulton counties, but never in Gwinnett.
“The law enforcement here is stepped up,” he said.
Jackson admitted to providing drugs for a friend from the old days at Avondale High School. That man, Mark Davis, connected Jackson with another Avondale grad named Cavell Ross. Jackson said he hadn’t spoken to the latter since high school before they got reacquainted in 2011.
That fall, the Jacksons had a cookout, and Ross was invited. He was a chef at a restaurant called Stoney River and Jackson wanted him to grill steaks for the party.
Being present at the drug dealer’s gorgeous Craftsman-style home on the edge of downtown Norcross, a $600,000 structure, sparked an idea in Ross, according to testimony.
Timothy Lamar Johnson — Ross’ step-brother, and a co-defendant in the case who pleaded guilty earlier this week — testified Wednesday that Ross was the one who later proposed a robbery. According to Johnson, Ross reached out to Darrez “Phatt” Chandler and urged him to get a group together for the crime.
Ross spoke of “at least” $1 million cash inside the home, maybe more. For providing the tip, Ross’ cut would be 15 percent, Johnson said.
On an un-remembered day sometime in mid-November 2011, a robbery crew including Johnson, Chandler Eddie “Tiger” Green and a few others left the southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Pittsburgh with intentions to rob the Jacksons. They ultimately called it all off because kids were home, Johnson said.
In January of 2012, Ross reached out to Johnson again, chatting him up before asking what they wanted to do about “the house in Norcross.” When he hesitated, Ross fought back, Johnson said.
“He said, ‘Let them do it how they want to do it,’” Johnson said. Ross reportedly said if kids were involved the second time to “be easy” on them.
Dozier, the man on trial this week, was not included in any planning until that point, Johnson said. It’s believed that Dozier originally met Chandler, the alleged ringleader, in prison.
A change of heart?
Testimony was provided Wednesday by a number of parties: a 911 dispatcher, firefighters, a sheriff’s deputy. Nick Jackson II’s sister, father and mother spoke about what they saw in that night’s aftermath.
Johnson’s testimony, though, was most key to the prosecution’s case. He claimed that Dozier admitted to shooting inside the Jackson home and that Dozier, known as “Polo,” was one of the four men who invaded the home while he and Green drove around the block.
“(Dozier) said, ‘Man, (Lumpkin) shot and I had to shoot with him,’” Johnson said.
But Margolis, the defense attorney, urged the jury to take Johnson’s words with a healthy dose of salt.
Johnson pleaded guilty Tuesday morning, an action that took a murder charge off the table and left him facing just 15 years in prison on counts of armed robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and possession of a firearm by a felon. It’s not the first time he’s been arrested and managed to get off on lesser charges.
In 1999 in Fulton County, Johnson was arrested on a murder charge. That was later changed to mere robbery charges.
Five years later, Johnson was arrested again in Fulton County, this time on racketeering and cocaine trafficking charges. He was allowed the plead down and sentenced to serve just three years in prison.
Prior to last Thursday, Johnson had not cooperated with Norcross police or the district attorney’s office in the slightest. Margolis asserted multiple times Wednesday that Johnson wasn’t to be trusted because he had dramatically changed his tune, likely at the prospect of a sweetheart deal for himself.
But Johnson said he wasn’t offered a deal when he confessed and that “it really wasn’t my concern.”
“I cooperated for the sake of 15-year-old Nicolas Jackson,” he said. “… I’ve had a change of heart as to who I am.”
Johnson also said he saw Dozier running toward the getaway van with a black laptop bag that night. The computer — which belonged to Shameka Render, Nick Jackson II’s mother — was later recovered in the van.
No bag was ever found, Margolis said.