Judge: Man cannot be retried in 1996 slayings of 2 cousins

Posted at 7:58 AM, November 9, 2020 and last updated 4:27 PM, July 21, 2023

READING, Pa. (AP) — An eastern Pennsylvania judge has ruled that a man cannot be tried a second time in the shooting deaths of two cousins almost a quarter of a century ago.

A Berks County judge last month dismissed the charges against 44-year-old Roderick Johnson, saying his initial trials were unfair and trying him again for the same crimes would violate federal double jeopardy laws, the Reading Eagle reported.

Johnson was convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, but a county judge granted him a new trial in 2013, citing misconduct by prosecutors. Judge Eleni Dimitriou Geishauser, in her Oct. 29 ruling, cited what she called “egregious” conduct in the withholding of information from defense attorneys.

A spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office said the office is considering an appeal of the ruling.

Defense attorney Jay Nigrini said his client remains in county prison and has spent more than half of his life incarcerated for crimes that weren’t properly tried.

“It’s very upsetting to know that a person has been on death row due to intentional prosecutorial misconduct,” Nigrini said. “It undermines confidence in the criminal justice system when a case like this occurs.”

Johnson and a co-defendant were sentenced to death in the slayings of 22-year-old Damon Banks and 19-year-old Gregory Banks, whose bodies were found off an Exeter Township road in December 1996. The other man was also sentenced to death but was later resentenced to 23 to 80 years, WFMZ reported.

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