Verdict in double murder trial

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Kristopher Johnson

A man with alleged ties to the Crips street gang could end up spending as much as 40 years in prison after his conviction for his role in a robbery-turned-double murder that was sparked by a marijuana deal. 

Kristopher Johnson, 25, was found guilty last week by a Knox County jury of two counts of facilitation of felony murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, evidence tampering, aggravated burglary and aggravated assault. 

The verdict was returned Thursday in Knox County Criminal Court, and Johnson’s sentencing hearing was scheduled for October 8 by Judge Steve Sword.

Johnson was one of three young men accused of killing a pair of teenagers on June 22, 2017. The victims — Sergio Rivera, 18, and Jaleon Morris, 18, both of Decatur, Mich. — were shot and killed in a parking lot at the Montgomery Village public housing project in South Knoxville while trying to buy marijuana. A 16-year-old boy was also shot but survived.

The other two defendants in the case had already had their days in court. Rico Dion Cook, 19 — described by authorities as the leader in the plot — had already been convicted of first-degree murder and is currently serving a sentence of life in prison plus 17 years. Deon Na’Quan Nolbert, 21, is serving a 20-year prison term after pleading guilty to facilitation of first-degree murder. 

Both Cook and Nolbert were children themselves when they shot the other teens. Cook was only 15 years old at the time of the killings and Nolbert was 17, but prosecutors successfully sought to have them tried as adults. 

Rico Cook

Johnson’s trial last week lasted four days and was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Nate Ogle and Heather Good.

“Prosecutors explained to the jury that on June 22, 2017, Deon Nolbert set up a deal to purchase marijuana from the victims,” said Knox County District Attorney’s spokesperson Sean McDermott. “Before the deal took place, Rico Cook told Nolbert and Johnson that he was going to rob the victims of their marijuana.”

He continued: “Johnson provided Cook with a Glock handgun to use in the robbery. When the victims showed up for the marijuana deal, Cook entered their vehicle and started shooting. Two victims were killed, and one survived despite being shot twice in the head. After the murder, Cook took the marijuana and Glock back to Johnson. Johnson then hid the marijuana and gun in another apartment before being taken into custody by the Knoxville Police Department.”

Facilitation of first-degree murder carries a 25- to 40-year sentence, McDermott said.  

“At sentencing, prosecutors will seek an enhanced punishment and consecutive sentences due to Johnson’s criminal history and affiliation with the Crips criminal street gang,” he said. 

Deon Nolbert

Published on August 23, 2021.