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Demetri Ewing gets 25 years to life

Moscow-Pullman Daily News - 4/14/2023

Apr. 14—After being convicted almost a year ago, 18-year-old Demetri Ewing was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison by 2nd District Judge Jay Gaskill on Thursday at the Nez Perce County Courthouse.

Gaskill, who presided over Ewing's murder trial last year, gave Ewing a sentence to serve no less than 25 years, but after the 25 years are completed he can be eligible for parole at any time and be released or remain incarcerated for life. He was also given credit for time served, which included 806 days and a $5,000 civil penalty. Gaskill retired in December and received senior judge status and returned to the bench for the sentencing with about 30 people in attendance.

Ewing, along with his father, Clyde Ewing, was convicted of first-degree murder April 22, 2022, in the shooting death of Samuel Johns on Jan. 8, 2021. Demetri Ewing was 16 years old at the time of the murder and was charged as an adult. He has been in custody at the Nez Perce County Jail since he turned 18 in December.

Erin Johns, the victim's brother, gave a victim impact statement to the court where she described Samuel Johns' personality and how much he meant to his friends and family. She said that when she found out her brother was murdered she cried for days and couldn't sleep. Her mother also had post-traumatic stress disorder after the murder, couldn't eat and died a few months after.

"It was like the heart of our family was ripped away, leaving a hole that can never be filled," she said about Samuel's death.

Erin Johns shared stories and quotes from family and friends about Samuel Johns — that he was the best person to work with, he cared about his mom, always befriended people others ignored, always had a good attitude, he was sweet, soft-spoken and good-natured.

"Who knows how many people he made laugh or smile?" Erin Johns said.

"In the end I really want to express how wonderful and loving he was," Erin Johns said, becoming emotional. "He loved his family and friends more than anything and he's loved right back."

Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman and Chief Deputy Prosecutor April Smith argued that Ewing should receive a fixed life sentence, meaning there would be no possibility for release, and gave Gaskill a 52-page exhibit along with a pre-sentencing investigation.

"Mr. Ewing was given grace by Judge Gaskill and the opportunity to have a life outside the walls of a prison cell, I hope he uses it wisely," Coleman said in a news release from the prosecutor's office. "For the safety of our community, I hope he never gets out."

In the courtroom, Coleman argued that Ewing had no remorse for his actions and didn't admit his guilt. Coleman also went over details in the case including the planning that took place eight days before the murder.

"That means the defendant had eight days to change his mind," Coleman said. "He could have stopped but he made up his mind."

Prosecutors also showed two videos taken by Ewing before the murder showing his interaction with police officers where he uses profanity, slurs and accuses the officer of harassment. Coleman used the videos to show that the public needed to be protected from Ewing and his defiant and anti-authority behavior. He said that 16 days after moving from juvenile detention to the Nez Perce County Jail, Ewing planned a fight. However, his defense attorney, Greg Rauch, later disputed that the fight was planned by Ewing.

Coleman noted the pre-sentencing investigation recommended prison for Ewing, who is at risk for recidivism and shows no signs of being rehabilitated. Mitigating factors like Ewing's childhood trauma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder doesn't explain Ewing's actions, Coleman said, because there are "millions" who have shared experiences but haven't committed murder. Ewing's age was also considered, but Coleman said that Ewing remained a threat despite his age.

"The state doesn't ask for this lightly, but adult decisions have adult consequences," Coleman said. "It's a senseless murder that was committed by the defendant."

Rauch then stood up to address the court and argued for a blended sentence of 10 years to life, meaning that Ewing would spend time in juvenile detention. He said the pushback on authority cited by the prosecution was normal teenage behavior.

Rauch also submitted a mitigation report outlining that Ewing was abused and given drugs by his father. He only received regular schooling when he was in juvenile detention and he was living in a teen homeless shelter at Christmas before the murder.

"The system failed Demetri Ewing," Rauch said and questioned why nothing was done to remove Ewing from his father.

He said that Ewing was "brainwashed" by his father for 15 years and learned his behavior from him. Rauch argued that Ewing's actions in custody were the result of "taking a feral child off the street" and trying to rehabilitate Ewing.

"I don't know what the state expected to see," Rauch said. "(If the state) expects that (behavior) to turn around in one day with no pushback is absurd."

Rauch said that Ewing has shown progress. While he was in custody at the juvenile detention center, Ewing graduated high school and wants to continue studying computer science.

"He's still moving forward," Rauch said.

Although Rauch acknowledged the seriousness of the crime, he also highlighted Ewing's age and the life sentence being asked by the prosecution.

"A man is dead and we are sentencing a child, and they are asking to sentence him to life," Rauch said. "I am asking the court to save this child.... This is the last possible chance."

Ewing didn't address the court.

Gaskill spoke before issuing the sentence stating the "ill-conceived" burglary attempt that led to the murder allowed Ewing time to reconsider and even contact law enforcement to resolve the property dispute.

"You chose to take the law into your own hands," Gaskill said. "A man has lost his life and that can't be undone."

Gaskill noted that Ewing hasn't acknowledged remorse or guilt and that there is no indication if he will or will not be successful with rehabilitation.

"Believe me, I have taken into consideration your age at the time of the incident," Gaskill said.

As part of preparing for the sentencing Gaskill looked at other cases with young defendants charged with murder. However, he also noted that each case is different, including Ewing's. He cited the serious crime that took a life, the lack of remorse, little chance of rehabilitation, and he didn't find that normal teenage behavior included "indulging in that type of behavior."

"I've been implored to save this person," Gaskill said. "I find that because of your actions, I cannot save the victim in this case."

He told Ewing that if he is successful and is released after 25 years "you will be younger than your father was when this incident occurred."

Ewing was convicted after a nine-day trial. The prosecution offered more than 150 items of evidence including shell casings, zip ties, a Walmart bag and electrical and duct tape, which were all found at the crime scene, and connected it to the motel room at the Hacienda Lodge that Demetri Ewing shared with his father. When some of the evidence was analyzed, fingerprints belonging to Demetri Ewing were found. There was also video surveillance from Walmart showing the purchase of the items and video surveillance to and from the murder scene. The prosecution also presented testimony from first responders, witnesses and experts that analyzed the evidence found at the scene.

The prosecution made its case that the reason for the murder was a dispute over a green army bag that belonged to Clyde Ewing, which he believed was at the Johns' home. In its case the prosecution said that the Ewings rode bicycles, wearing all black clothing, from the Hacienda Lodge to the Johns residence at 1706 Seventh Ave., in Lewiston, to retrieve the bag. They entered the home, zip-tied a woman who was there, Patricia Labombard, and found Johns, who was fatally shot twice.

The Ewings then left the scene and returned to the Hacienda Lodge. During the investigation the Ewings' residence at room 126 at the Hacienda Lodge was under surveillance by law enforcement. The Ewings were detained Jan. 12, 2021, by Clarkston police as suspects in the shooting and later arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

In closing arguments of the trial, Coleman suggested that the amount of gunshot residue on Demetri Ewing as well as an audio clip from a surveillance video at a home close to the Johns residence saying "I shot him, Dad" pointed to Ewing as the shooter.

The gun involved in the shooting was never found as well as black sweatshirts the assailants were wearing.

The defense questioned the direction of investigation that connected the Ewings to the crime early on and disputed that some of the evidence didn't directly implicate Demetri Ewing. However, the 12-member jury deliberated for 3 1/2 hours to reach the unanimous guilty verdict.

Clyde Ewing, was sentenced in December to life in prison without parole.

Brewster may be contacted at or at (208) 848-2297.


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