Drug dealer testifies he sold drugs to Mitchell in alley where cab driver was killed

Defense continues case Monday

Johnathan Mitchell takes notes during his trial for first-degree murder and first-degree robbery at the Story County Cou
Johnathan Mitchell takes notes during his trial for first-degree murder and first-degree robbery at the Story County Courthouse on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in Nevada. Mitchell is charged in the April 2011 death of Century Cab driver Cathy Stickley in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

A convicted drug dealer testified Friday he sold crack cocaine to Johnathan Mitchell and was paid with “bloody” money the night cab driver Cathy Stickley was killed April 29, 2011.

Benjamin Owens, 26, who is serving 17 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and a firearm charge, said he sold Mitchell, who he knew as “Big Guy” three bags of crack earlier in the day for $50.

Owens said Mitchell then called him back later and wanted to come by and purchase more. When Mitchell arrived he didn’t have money in his pockets so he went to his car to get it. Mitchell was gone about two minutes and when he came back he was “sweaty."

“He gave me $35 and then ran off but not back to where his car was,” Owens said. “Then, I see him running across Second (Avenue) towards First (Avenue).”

Johnathan Mitchell, 35, of Cedar Rapids, charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery, is accused of killing Stickley, 55, a Century cab driver, that night during what started out as a robbery.

Stickley was found face down by her vehicle in the 1500 block alley between 2nd and 3rd avenues SE, according to testimony. She was stabbed 18 times in the neck and head, according to testimony.

The prosecution claims Mitchell robbed and killed Stickley for money to pay for crack cocaine.

The defense claims Mitchell was at the scene but didn't kill Stickley and also claims Stickley was involved in drug activity that gave someone a motive to kill her.

The prosecution rested after Owens’ testimony and the defense put on one brief witness and will continue its case 9 a.m.  Monday. The trial, moved from Linn to Story County District Court, started Oct. 8, and closing arguments are expected to start Tuesday.

Follow Gazette Reporter Trish Mehaffey’s continuing live coverage from the courtroom.

Owens said after Mitchell left he got a call from Amber Harris, his child’s mother, and Tommy Collins, a convicted drug dealer who testified earlier this week. They told him about seeing a cab in the alley. Owens got in Harris’ car and they drove around the alley.

“I could see a cab door open and like an arm hanging out (from driver’s side),” Owens said. "I don't know if they were moving or not."

Owens then went back to the apartment of Matthew Robinson, his uncle, where he sold drugs, and hid the guns in the kitchen vent and living room closet and took the drugs and left. He then walked to Hy-Vee on First Avenue SE to get rid of Mitchell’s money that had a bloody fingerprint.

Scott had him identify numbers from his phone log because he had a call that night from Stickley’s cell.

Owens said he didn’t know Stickley and didn’t talk to a “white lady” that night. He also said he never sold crack to Stickley and she never sold crack for him.

Owens admitted he lied to police about seeing Mitchell that night and selling him drugs. He didn’t tell the truth because he wasn’t going to admit to selling drugs again and having guns. He was just released from prison about two weeks before.

Owens said he admitted seeing Mitchell and selling him the drugs that night in 2012 when he signed a proffer for his plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As part of the agreement, he had to tell the truth.

Tyler Johnston, Mitchell’s attorney, aggressively questioned Owens most of the afternoon in an attempt to discredit his testimony.

Owens couldn't identify any number for Johnston that would match a landline number he said Mitchell made one call from that night.

Johnston repeatedly asked Owens why he lied to police because they kept telling him they didn’t care what he was doing that night. He wouldn’t even say he saw Mitchell that night in his first deposition.

Owens said he didn’t trust them. He also said he didn’t want to say Mitchell was in the alley that night because Mitchell was there because he was buying drugs from him.

“I’m not going to tell cops I’m selling drugs and have guns,” Owens said.

Johnston said wasn’t the only reason he’s telling this story now is to get reconsideration on his federal sentence.

Owens claimed he didn’t know what happened in state court could be used for his federal sentencing.

Scott on re-direct asked Owens if he received any credit from the federal government for this case or a promise of some kind.

Owens said no.

“Did you sell crack cocaine to Johnathan Mitchell twice on April 29, 2011?” Scott asked.

Owens said yes.

Sara Smith, Mitchell’s attorney, asked Cedar Rapids Police investigator George Aboud if witness John Ramblesberg told police about hearing a car horn honking in the alley that night.

Aboud said no. Ramblesberg said he saw a silver Impala go through the alley twice.

Tommy Collins testified earlier this week that he and Amber Harris were in that car.

Scott on cross asked if the eight investigators on the case were all pursuing different leads and information.Aboud said yes, that was common.

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