50 Years Recommended in Murder-For-Hire Trial

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By Linda Cicoira — A four-day trial in Accomack Circuit Court last week involved cocaine, a love affair, shooting victims, a murder conspiracy, a paid police informant, revenge, sex, taped phone conversations from the county jail, convictions that caused the commonwealth’s attorney and an Eastern Shore Drug Task Force agent to rejoice and hug, a hefty prison term, and disagreements about how things transpired and who did what.

After deliberating for an hour last Friday afternoon, a jury recommended Evron Terrell Strand, 44, of Deer Drive in Nelsonia, be sentenced to 50 years in prison for seven felony counts in a murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the shooting of Nathaniel “Nate” Johnson Sr., 30, the informant, and his then-girlfriend, 20-year-old Dezarae Smith, in October 2017. They also recommended Strand be fined a total of $202,500. 

“He wanted someone dead so he could continue to sell his poison,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan told the jury before sentencing deliberations began. Defense lawyer Kenneth Singleton urged the panel to recommend a minimum mandatory sentence of 45 years for the crimes that would keep Strand behind bars until he is almost 90 years old.

Singleton asked Judge W. Revell Lewis III to take Strand out of isolation, where no TV or phone calls are allowed. Lewis said it is the sheriff who makes decisions about inmate housing. Strand is being held in the Eastern Shore Regional Jail, in Eastville, which is overseen by Northampton Sheriff David Doughty.

A breakdown of the jury’s recommendation showed five years each for four counts of soliciting a murder, 10 years and a $100,000 fine for conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, 20 years and a $100,000 fine for attempted capital murder-for-hire, and a fine of $2,500 for conspiracy to obstruct justice. Lewis ordered a presentence report and set sentencing for June 6.

Strand was awaiting trial for distribution of cocaine when Johnson and Smith were shot while walking on Linhaven Circle, near Painter, on Halloween night. The two had just left a gathering at the home of Latisha Annetta Pepper, 32, who is now an inmate at Accomack Jail, awaiting trial on charges of possession of a firearm while attempting to sell or selling marijuana, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon. 

Johnson testified that Roquan Lee’teq “Kake” Rogers, 19, of Benjamin Banneker Road in Exmore, shot him and Smith while they were walking to Johnson’s car. Rogers is accused of taking the job at Strand’s urging for revenge. Johnson was the key witness in the trial of Akeem Markiese Rogers, 27, of Madame CJ Walker Lane in Exmore, who is Roquan Rogers’ brother. The trial was about two weeks before the shooting. Akeem Rogers contended his innocence to a jury regarding drug distribution charges but changed his plea after Johnson testified.

When Roquan Rogers’ trial was held, Smith said she recognized him as the shooter. At Strand’s trial, Smith testified that she was going by what Johnson had said. Smith said she didn’t know Johnson was an informant until after the shooting and that the two are no longer friends. Smith testified Johnson never looked at the shooter after she said someone in the bushes had a gun and that Johnson pushed Smith down in a ditch as he ran away. She got shot in the ankle. Johnson was hit in the back and buttocks. 

Morgan told the court that Roquan Rogers’ father, Stretch Giddens, was intimidating Smith by sitting behind her in court and being in the courtroom when she testified. 

“False allegations,” Giddens wrote on Facebook. “Court is open to the public … I am permitted to sit in on any case that pertains to my son … She (Smith) changed her story because she got the chance to sit in the court and hear all the lies of the testimony that Nate Johnson was telling the court and herself.”

“The only reason I didn’t sit in on Deshawn Drummond’s case (was) because it was secretive … He was charged with the same charges as my son and only got a program and probation,” wrote Giddens. “Debrandon Harmon was arrested on drug charges related to this case (and) was given bond and then picked up on conspiracy (to) commit cap(ital) murder and remains out on bond.”

Cynthia Harmon, 52, of Dennis Drive in Parksley, is awaiting trial on the same charges as Strand. She testified she was Strand’s partner in the drug distribution business and said the two were having a love affair. At the request of the defense, Harmon read a letter she wrote to Strand while he was in jail. In it, she professed her feelings and desires for Strand and warned him not to talk about his situation to people who weren’t trustworthy, in and out of jail. 

“I was the one making the calls,” Harmon said of the three-way conversations between Strand and those he solicited to kill Johnson, including her son, 30-year-old Debrandon Harmon. The calls were recorded because Strand was a prisoner. The recordings were played for the jurors and they were permitted to play them back during deliberations on a computer that was not connected to the internet and had never been used before.

Cynthia Harmon talked about the raid of her house that came after the shooting. “I was taken away,” she said, explaining why she didn’t know how much cocaine was seized. “I don’t have any guns,” she added. “I’m afraid of guns. I don’t know what my son had. … My son is grown. He makes his own decisions. Mr. Strand talked to my son to ask him to do whatever he wanted him to do … he wouldn’t have been in it if it wasn’t for Mr. Strand … If my son did something wrong, he has to pay for it. If they need me to testify, I’ll testify.” 

Debrandon Harmon said nine ounces of cocaine, that did not belong to him, was confiscated from the house where he lived with his mother and other relatives.  He admitted he sold drugs he obtained from Strand until Strand was arrested. 

Debrandon Pierre “Beans” Harmon, 30, testified he had sold drugs he obtained from Strand before the defendant was arrested for cocaine selling. Debrandon Harmon is the only suspect charged in the plot to be given bond. He said he earned the $700 police confiscated from him at his jobs at Perdue and Hardee’s, not by selling drugs. Three smaller bags of cocaine were found with his property in the house. He did not deny that those belonged to him. “He never used the word ‘murder,’” he said of Strand. “Eliminate and exterminate were the words he used. He just said he would ‘bless me.’” Debrandon Harmon said he thought that meant “look out for him or provide him with cash, drugs, something of that sort.”

Deshawn Markiese Drummond, 28, of Savageville, also admitted to selling cocaine. At first, he said he was testifying in hopes of getting a lighter sentence. Then he admitted he had pleaded guilty in a plea-bargaining agreement with Morgan. The details, sealed in court records, were unsealed so Singleton could view the signed copy resealed and not available to the public. Testimony disclosed Drummond was convicted of obstruction of justice. He was indicted on counts of conspiracy to commit murder, conspiring with a prisoner to commit the capital offense, and conspiring to intimidate a witness.

I didn’t try to do no murder,” Drummond said. “He (Strand) wanted to get off his charges” so he used codes to tell him to kill Johnson. “I’m telling you how the streets is … at first he said whatever I needed and pick a car out of his yard” as payment. “I made no attempt … I’m pleading guilty to where I was on the phone. I’ve been to court. My max is five years.” Drummond said he was hoping to get out next month.

Cynthia Harmon said she and her son went to the Walmart, after the shooting, to pay Aaron Jamarcus Bowens, also known as Easy and BOBO, 22, of Big Pine Road in Painter, for attempting to kill Johnson. Debrandon Harmon met Bowens down an aisle and paid him $1,000. Bowens has been publicly accused of committing murder in Northampton, although he was never charged with the crime. His home was searched after Johnson and Smith were shot, and gang-related notes were confiscated. 

Bowens is being held in Accomack Jail. He is charged with capital murder-for-hire, capital murder by a prisoner, and obstruction of justice. His jury trial is set for Feb. 6 and 7. He did not testify against Strand.

Keenan Jibrel “Lo” Berry, 26, of Jermaine Lane in Parksley, was also asked by the alleged planners to kill Johnson. His trial is set for Feb. 14.

A jury convicted Roquan Rogers of three counts of conspiracy. The panel was deadlocked on nine other counts including attempted capital murder.

The jurors recommended a total of 17 years in prison with 10 years for conspiracy to commit capital murder for hire, five years for conspiracy to commit capital murder involving a prisoner, and two years for conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice. When the jurors were polled, a male juror said that he did not agree with the recommendation. No date has been set for the retrials. 

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