Woods found guilty in kidnapping, murder of brothers
A Lake Superior Court jury deliberated about three hours Friday before convicting a Gary woman of all charges in the execution-style murders of two teenage brothers in 2015.
Jeri Latoya Woods, 35, was handcuffed after the verdicts were read by Judge Diane Ross Boswell. She was found guilty of two counts of murder, two counts of murder in perpetration of kidnapping and two counts of kidnapping in the murders of Arreon Lackey, 18, and Antonio Lackey, 16. Woods faces 45 to 65 years for each murder count and one to six years on each of the kidnapping counts at her June 29 sentencing hearing. Boswell merged the felony murder counts with the murder counts.
Moments later, defense attorney Jamise Perkins walked out of the courtroom with her arm draped on Woods’ shoulders as she was led back to jail.
During closing arguments in the three-week trial, deputy prosecutor Robert Persin used a power-point presentation to highlight the details of the case in which six others were charged with Woods. Two co-defendants, Kiontay Cason, 23, and Woods’ stepson, David Johnson V, 21, testified against Woods under terms of plea agreements filed last year. The remaining co-defendants — her stepson Arrion Greenwood, 19; his girlfriend, Michelle Hughes, 28; her husband, David Johnson IV, 39, and her father-in-law, David Johnson III, 64, — all have pleaded not guilty.
Persin recounted Woods’ anger over a shooting where Greenwood and Arreon Lackey wounded family friend, Damon Hill, and then she kept a .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun and a .38-caliber revolver. Police investigators have linked the revolver to the homicide of Alfred Wiley, 46, about two months before the Lackey murders. Woods’ husband is charged with murder and Woods is charged with conspiracy to commit murder in that case, and both have pleaded not guilty.
Perkins argued that Woods was made a scapegoat in the case. She said the mother of seven is married to a violent man, but did the best she could to protect her family. Persin recalled Woods’ own testimony that she left her children with one of her sisters and fled the area after her husband, stepson and father-in-law were arrested Sept. 29, 2015. U.S. marshals arrested Woods on Feb. 29, 2016, in Dallas, Texas.
Persin argued that the "real Jeri Woods" is talking when she threatens to "slap a bone" out of Greenwood’s face. Woods also is upset that Arreon Lackey and Greenwood had planned to burglarize her home.
Evidence presented by Persin and deputy prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz showed that Woods’ husband is particularly interested in getting the revolver returned. David Johnson IV has everyone load up to pick up Greenwood at the Porter County Juvenile Center on June 26, 2015. From there, the group travels to the Lake Street Supermarket in Miller. "To get guns, you gotta have guns," Woods is quoted as saying. At the store, Woods cries when she asks to borrow a 10 mm semi-automatic handgun, which investigators said is the murder weapon.
The defendants drove to the Country Inn and Suites in Merrillville, where the Lackey brothers and their family have been staying after their Gary home was shot up. David Johnson IV demands the return of the revolver and forces the teens into two vehicles without their shoes and cell phone, Persin said.
After trying unsuccessfully to retrieve the gun from a Lake Station man, Woods suggests that her husband "take it as a loss," but then decides they should go to "the farm," a 38-acre parcel at 7030 Grand Blvd., Hobart, where her father-in-law has hunted and fished, testimony showed.
It was there the teens were forced to walk about a half-mile, down a long, overgrown driveway and deep into the woods.
Cason described in detail how the murders occurred. As Woods, armed with the 10 mm, and Cason, who is carrying David Johnson IV’s .380-caliber semi-automatic, lead the teens down the trail, Greenwood came running up and made a gesture that prompted Cason to produce the pistol and Woods the 10 mm pistol. Greenwood is sent back to the car. David Johnson III catches up with Woods, Cason and the Lackeys and orders the teens to strip. Cason recalled Woods saying, "Hug your brother," before she shoots the teens once in the head, and then once each in the torso at David Johnson III’s direction.
Police found the victims’ clothes in a pile separate from their skeletal remains, which were discovered three weeks later, on July 17, 2015, by a family that had permission to fish at a pond on the property.
Perkins, who blasted testimony from the state’s two "star" witnesses, said David Johnson V lied to the lead investigator, Hobart police Detective Nicholas Wardrip, in two statements. As for Cason, Perkins said prosecutors "made a deal with the devil" in offering him a plea agreement.
Perkins said Cason’s account, which included Woods putting the 10 mm pistol into her shirt at the farm, was ridiculous. To make her point, Perkins took the gun from the evidence bag and put it in her dress, only to have it slide out.
Persin countered that Perkins’ build is different from her client’s and noted that Woods was wearing leggings in surveillance footage, which wouldn’t have held the pistol.
Ruth Ann Krause is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.