Hunt found guilty on all counts

Sentencing scheduled for February

CENTREVILLE — A St. Joseph County Circuit Court jury Wednesday found Theron Phone Hunt, 41, of Dowagiac guilty in the murder of Kevin Johnson, a Kentucky truck driver who was shot and killed in Flowerfield Township on Nov. 15, 2018.

After approximately three hours of deliberation between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all six counts Hunt was charged with, including first-degree felony murder, two counts of armed robbery, unlawful imprisonment, second-degree criminal sexual conduct and felony firearm.

A felony murder conviction carries a life sentence, while each count of felony armed robbery could result in a sentence of life or any number of years in prison. Unlawful imprisonment could carry a sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine, and second-degree criminal sexual conduct requires a sentence of 15 years and mandatory AIDS/STD testing. Felony firearm requires two years served consecutively with and preceding any term of imprisonment imposed for a felony or attempted felony conviction.

The jury heard testimony from 15 witnesses over the course of the six-day trial, which began on Tuesday, Jan. 7, before returning a verdict. Circuit Court Judge Paul Stutesman is scheduled to sentence Hunt on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 1 p.m.

Hunt’s co-defendants in the case have both reached plea agreements with the prosecution, including Kayla Cheney who has admitted to pulling the trigger of the 12-guage sawed-off shotgun that killed Johnson. She is currently serving a 25 to 75-year sentence for second-degree murder. Tyler McNeil, the owner of the murder weapon who loaded and brought the gun to the scene of the crime, has pled guilty to armed robbery and is awaiting sentencing later this month.

Following Wednesday’s proceedings St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough said he was “very happy” with the jury’s findings.

“I’m happy for Mr. Johnson’s family, I’m happy for Staniela (King), for Heather (Little) and I’m happy for all of the officers that worked so hard on this case,” McDonough said. “Mr. Hunt is a tremendously evil person, and I know some of the plea agreements that I made — especially Tyler (McNeil)’s — really hit hard with the family. It was something I had to — it was a tough decision — but Tyler in my opinion was the least culpable, and Mr. (T.J.) Reed tried to make him out to be the villain in all of this but he was a young kid who was hooked on meth, and got roped into something by a career criminal in Mr. Hunt, and I’m glad (Hunt)’s going to be gone forever.”

McDonough also praised the police work that made Hunt’s convictions possible, pointing specifically to the swift apprehension of all three suspects less than 48 hours after Johnson’s murder.

“It was amazing when this first happened — we didn’t have any clue — I mean the three main players in it were from Dowagiac, they weren’t local people and they didn’t have any local contacts beyond Ms. King, that we know of,” McDonough said, “and she gave us the ‘T.P.’ nickname. Thank god for Det. Sgt. Paul Gonyeau at the (Michigan) State Police, he dropped what he was doing and helped us out right away with Facebook (data extraction), and we were able to I.D. (Hunt) relatively quickly. It was amazing that within a day and a half we had all three of them in custody, it was just phenomenal police work. I commend Det. Sgt. Spence first and foremost but also everyone else who worked along with him.”

Det. Sgt. Chad Spence, the lead investigator in the case, said he was happy with the jury’s verdict, as it was “exactly what it should have been.” Spence, a 22-year veteran of the St. Joseph County Sherriff ’s Department, said cooperation between multiple agencies played an integral role in the case.

“I think the biggest thing with this case was the cooperation between multiple agencies — with the St. Joseph County Sheriff ’s Office, St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, the Major Crime Scene Task Force, which involves several agencies in our county, the Michigan State Police, the Cass County Sheriff ’s Office, the Dowagiac Police Department — just multiple agencies that made this investigation go smoothly. We had all three suspects arrested within 48 hours because of the cooperation of all those agencies. It just goes to show that with all these agencies and resources working together (we get results). I appreciate everything that everyone did in this case, as the lead investigator it’s not just me, it’s everyone involved as a team that made it work.”

Alek Haak-Frost can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or alek@threeriversnews.com.

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