A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge on July 14 declared a mistrial for a former county parks employee charged with second-degree murder in the August 2016 stabbing death of lesbian chef and caterer Tyonne Johns during an altercation at an outdoor wedding reception.
Judge Daniel E. Ortiz declared the mistrial when a jury announced it was deadlocked and could not reach a verdict after deliberating for more than six and a half hours. Prosecutors with the Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said they plan to bring the case to trial again.
The announcement by the jurors followed a six-day trial in which the defense argued that former Fairfax parks department worker Kempton A. Bonds, who was 19 at the time of the incident, stabbed Johns in self defense.
In dramatic testimony on the witness stand, Bonds reiterated what he told police and prosecutors at the time of his arrest – that Johns allegedly placed him in a choke hold, preventing him from breathing, after the two argued over the ownership of folding chairs used at an Aug. 6, 2016 wedding that Johns catered at a county park in Chantilly, Va.
According to media reports, the lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Brandon Shapiro, argued that witnesses associated with the wedding party testified that Bonds acted in a rude manner toward the wedding guests since the start of the outdoor reception. He also noted that witnesses claimed not to have seen Johns touch Bonds in any way.
“It was by far not an accident,” the Washington Post quoted Shapiro saying in his closing arguments at the trial. “He antagonized, he baited…he took that knife and he stuck it three inches into her,” and that Bonds was “going for death,” the Post quoted Shapiro as saying.
Defense attorney Peter Greenspun told the jury that Bonds was merely trying to carry out his duties as a park employee when he followed the terms of an agreement that loud music played at the wedding had to end by 9 p.m., according to an account of the trial by Channel 7 News. When bonds pulled the plug for the sound system, Johns and some of the wedding guests became “foul, vile and disrespectful” toward Bonds, the Post reported.
Greenspun argued that Bonds, feeling threatened, called his boss and Fairfax police at least two times to say he worried about his safety.
At the time of Bonds’ arrest last August Fairfax police said witnesses reported that an argument between Johns and Bonds over the ownership of folding chairs used at the wedding led to the altercation that prompted Bonds to stab Johns. Bonds insisted the chairs belonged to the Fairfax parks department when he saw Johns taking steps to remove them, police said. Witnesses told police that Johns claimed the chairs were owned by a company with which she was associated and she was responsible for returning them to that company.
Greenspun argued that shortly before the stabbing Bonds was cornered, outnumbered and verbally assaulted by members of the wedding party, the Post reported. The Post quoted Bonds saying during his testimony at the trial, “I was trying to get her off of me so that I could breathe…I was afraid for my life.”
Friends and family members said Johns, a native of Hopewell, Va., was a highly acclaimed chef and operated her own catering business in the D.C. area for several years. Readers of the Washington Blade last fall voted to posthumously award Johns the honor of “Best Chef” in the Blade’s 2016 Best of Gay D.C. competition.
Prosecutors and Bonds’ defense team were expected to confer with the judge early next month to set a date for a second trial.