Michigan Court of Appeals Upholds Second-Degree Murder Conviction for 1993 Murder of 8-year-old Girl

In 1993, Lativia Johnson, who was 8 years old at the time, was shot while getting a glass of milk in her kitchen. The killer remained a mystery until 2011, when Robert Lee Gaines II and Bobby Brown were arrested for the killing.

Bobby Brown told police that he had been robbed and assaulted outside of a party store located near the Johnson residence on Ionia Avenue SW. According to prosecutors, Gaines shot the girl after he and Brown returned to the area. Gaines claimed that he did not pull the trigger, but did tell the court that after not cooperating with detectives during the investigation, he felt guilty.

On Monday, January 9, Gaines was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison after being convicted of the killing. During testimony, Brown claimed that Gaines waited in a car while Gaines went inside the home armed with a gun, then returned and told Brown he had shot someone. News reports state that during the trial, there was little clue as to what motivated Gaines, who was well-liked and a sports star, to become involved.

Jennifer Tabor, Gaines’ former girlfriend, testified that on the night of the shooting, he told her that ‘someone small’ fell after he and Brown chased the individuals they had been in an altercation with outside of the party store into the home and Brown fired a shot.

Gaines appealed the conviction, presenting arguments that the prosecution should not have been allowed to present evidence including what he had told Jennifer Tabor, which included that he should respond “Hell, no” if requested to take a polygraph test. The appeals panel felt that this evidence indicated that Gaines had a guilty conscious.

Gaines also argued that reasons for departure from the recommended sentencing guidelines were not articulated by Kent County Circuit Judge James Redford. Ultimately, Gaines conviction was upheld by the appeals panel.

Michigan murder appeals lawyers know that individuals who have been convicted of serious or violent crimes are often innocent, and unfortunately spend many years behind bars. Mistakes are made in the legal process; often times, jurors are sympathetic to victims and their families, and may lose sight of the facts in the case.


If you are innocent or feel that sentencing was extremely harsh, consult with a skilled Michigan criminal appeals attorney who understands the appeals process and has a winning track record for having convictions overturned.