Vice Lord convicted of killing wrong person

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Jeffery Milton Stokes

A career criminal who gunned down a teenager after mistaking him for a rival gang member was convicted of murder following a three-day trial in Knox County Criminal Court.

Jeffery Milton Stokes, 34, was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder and reckless endangerment for killing 19-year-old Alan Johnson, according to the Knox County District Attorney General’s office.

“Because of the members of the community who came forward, we were able to hold this violent gang member accountable for his actions and take him off our streets,” DA Charme Allen said.

Stokes is a member of the Vice Lords criminal street gang, which has traditionally operated in East Knoxville and has long maintained a violent rivalry with the Crips, a gang operating primarily in the Lonsdale area. Both gangs are local chapters of nationwide organizations with memberships believed to number in the tens of thousands, according to law enforcement officials. 

It was the Vice Lords’ long-standing conflict with the Crips that motivated Stokes to open fire on Johnson as the youth was walking down East 5th Avenue to a cousin’s house after working a shift at McDonald’s on Dec. 12, 2015, prosecutors told jurors when Stokes’ trial began Monday.

Stokes mistakenly believed that Johnson was a Crips gang member and decided kill him on sight, prosecutors said. 

“The victim was shot twice as he ran from gunfire that left twenty shell casings on the street and two bullets in neighboring houses,” said DA’s office spokesperson Sean McDermott. “Stokes’ vehicle was seen leaving the area within a minute of the first 911 call reporting the gunfire.”

Investigator Jeff Day of the Knoxville Police Department and other officers collected  evidence, including a handgun they later found hidden under the hood of Stokes’ vehicle. Ballistics testing of the recovered firearm showed that all the casings and bullets found at the crime scene had been fired from Stokes’ gun. 

Also, Stokes admitted his involvement in the killing to his cellmate, according to McDermott.

The jurors in the case reached their verdict about 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to McDermott.

Assistant District Attorneys Larry Dillon and Ashley McDermott, both of whom are assigned to the Career Gang Unit, prosecuted the case. Defense attorney Kit Rodgers represented Stokes. 

Stokes now has a sentencing hearing before Judge Scott Green on August 13. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, with Green deciding only if he will have a chance at parole after he serves 51 years behind bars.

He is already serving a 16-year prison term after his conviction in a federal drug trafficking case. The federal sentence must be served consecutive to the life sentence, which means that Stokes will be nearly 100 years old when he becomes eligible for his first parole hearing.

The gun used by Stokes as it was discovered by police — under the hood of his car. Photo from District Attorney General’s office

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected. The name of the victim was incorrectly reported in the initial online version of this story. We apologize for the error.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com

Published on June 25, 2021