PONTIAC — A 15-year-old Walled Lake resident will stand trial for open murder in the June 4 stabbing death of 17-year-old West Bloomfield resident Johnathan Rickman.
Family Court Judge Cheryl Matthews said that the prosecution, led by Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Townsend, had established probable cause against the 15-year-old and bound the case over for Circuit Court Wednesday.
Three witnesses testified Wednesday; two hearings in June took testimony from three additional witnesses and included a video of the incident, captured by a neighbor's surveillance camera, that was shown in open court.
Patch has not named the defendant, who is facing designated charges, which means that if convicted, the teen's sentencing — and whether he is sentenced as an adult or juvenile — would be at the discretion of the judge. The charge is left open because prosecutors have not decided to what degree the defendant is to be charged.
Witness describes quarrel
A 17-year-old boy who described Rickman as his best friend and who drove him to Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital June 4 told the courtroom that the altercation started with a quarrel during a dice game.
It all happened at a home in the 7300 block of Rafford. The witness testified that he had met Rickman nearby at Rickman's home and that the two drove in Rickman’s Cadillac Escalade to the home of another boy.
Shortly after the two arrived, the witness testified that the defendant, who was already at the scene with about seven other boys, yelled out a derogatory joke to ask why the two weren’t already throwing dice.
The witness said that an ensuing scuffle led to the defendant being punched twice in the face, falling down, and breaking a piece of glass furniture before rising to his feet, grabbing a steak knife from the kitchen, and chasing Rickman through the house.
The witness testified that he grabbed the defendant by the elbows and pushed him against a nearby wall but quickly let him go due to fear of the knife in the defendant’s hands — “I didn’t know what was in his head,” the witness said.
After letting the defendant go, the witness testified that the defendant chased Rickman out of the house and to the street. Although the stabbing occured just across the street near Rickman's Escalade, the witness did not see a stabbing occur; he testified that he was the only one of the group inside the house who walked out to the street and passed the defendant after the incident occurred.
The witness then walked towards Rickman’s Escalade, where he found Rickman trying to get inside. He said Rickman fell out of the front seat to the street and that he helped him back inside the passenger side of the vehicle. The witness said he drove Rickman to the hospital in “about two minutes.”
"I wish I could have done more," said the witness.
Defense attorney 'not surprised' by judge's ruling
Further witness testimony was provided by Oakland County Deputy Medical Examiner Bernardino Pacris, who performed Rickman's autopsy. Pacris said the knife perforated the abdomen through to the right ventricle of the heart and that Rickman died about one hour, 24 minutes after the knife entered his body.
Pacris also said tests revealed an unknown quantity of cannibis in Rickman's system. The only witness Wednesday for the defense, a 16-year-old boy who described himself as the defendant’s best friend — as well as a friend of Rickman's — testified that Rickman appeared high when the incident occurred, citing Rickman’s “bloodshot eyes” and noting that he was “talking different.”
The prosecution, as well as both families involved, declined to comment afterward. Southfield-based defense attorney Rowland Short said that although he wasn’t surprised with Matthews’ ruling to bind the case over, he was surprised to hear testimony from Pacris regarding Rickman’s alleged drug use.
“We tried to argue that the defendant was just defending himself, and we still feel that way," Short said. "He’s one-third the size, and he didn’t provoke anything,” he said of the defendant. “Obviously, now we know that (Rickman) was under the influence. … We didn’t have any indication of that until (Pacris) testified.”
The defendant, dressed in a yellow Oakland County Children's Village uniform, showed no emotion as he was led out of the packed courtroom in chains.
The defendant’s arraignment in front of Judge Wendy Potts is scheduled for 11 a.m. July 13. The Oakland County Prosecutor’s office explained that Potts, who is a Civil/Criminal Division judge, will be serving as a Family Court judge in this matter.
Pending a conviction by a 12-person jury, Potts can determine whether the defendant is sentenced as an adult, juvenile or by using some form of blended sentence.
If sentenced as a juvenile, the defendant could be held in a facility only until he is 21. But if sentenced as an adult, the defendant could face life in prison.