Video of getaway car, text messages lead to West Ashley murder conviction

Devin Samuel Johnson, 30, of Orangeburg was sentenced to 36 years in prison for a murder at a West Ashley apartment complex in 2011.

Text messages bragging about plans to kill a man and a video of the getaway car with a missing hubcap led to a conviction in a West Ashley murder case Thursday.

Devin Jamel Johnson, 30, of Cane Road in Orangeburg was found guilty of killing Aakeem Smalls, 22, of West Ashley. Johnson fatally shot Smalls on June 8, 2011, at the Georgetown Apartments at 1476 Orange Grove Road.

Judge Markley Dennis sentenced Johnson to 36 years in prison.

The 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office outlined the evidence that convicted Johnson.

Johnson believed Smalls owed him money and staked out his girlfriend's apartment. Smalls left the apartment about 10 p.m. Johnson met him at the bottom of the stairs and fired four shots from a 9 mm handgun. Smalls ran but was hit in the back.

Police followed a trail of blood and found Smalls at a nearby construction site. He died at a hospital.

Witnesses reported they saw a blue or black Toyota Camry back into a parking space minutes before the shooting, and they saw two men run to the car after the shots were fired. Surveillance video showed that the Camry was missing a back passenger-side hubcap.

Database searches revealed that Johnson's girlfriend owned a Toyota Camry and worked in Charleston. Police interviewed her, who was unaware of his involvement. She told them Johnson had ridden to Charleston with her on the day of the murder and was driving it at the time of the murder. Her Toyota was missing a back passenger-side hubcap.

Search warrants executed on Johnson's cellphone records confirmed his location in Charleston. Text messages revealed his plan to "wet the dude up tonight."

Days after the murder, an unfired bullet was found in Johnson's sister's apartment. A fingerprint taken from the bullet matched Johnson's. The bullet was the same caliber, length and brand name as those fired at Smalls.

After his arrest, Johnson insisted that he was at home in Orangeburg the entire day of the murder. He finally conceded that it was him in the video but claimed that he just happened to walk up on a stranger shooting the victim. He claimed he left the scene because he was afraid of what he had witnessed.

Police obtained a video from a gas station recorded shortly after the crime that shows him joking with a cashier. His clothing matched the person seen in the apartment security videos.

Johnson had been previously convicted of marijuana possession, financial card theft, breaking and entering a motor vehicle, criminal conspiracy, resisting arrest and receiving stolen goods.

Natalie Caula Hauff contributed to this report. Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.