Sabina O’Donnell murder case raises questions about suspect’s intelligence

A jury has begun deliberating in the murder trial of 20-year-old Donte Johnson, who stands of accused in the rape and murder of Sabina Rose O’Donnell near Fourth and Girard two years ago.

O’Donnell, 20, was found naked in a lot outside her apartment in June 2010. Two weeks later, Johnson was identified and surrendered to police and allegedly confessed to the crime. Both sides yesterday presented their final arguments to the jury.

One of Johnson’s attorneys, Gary Server, said several tests show that Johnson functions on a grade-school level and that his statement to police was false.

“He’s a kid. He’s not thinking like you and I,” Server said. “He would’ve said anything to get out of there, and he did.”

Server also told jurors the DNA evidence in this case is flawed. He also questioned why two brown hairs found on O’Donnell’s body were not tested.

“Why don’t we have that evidence? I don’t know why we don’t have that evidence.”

Assistant District Attorney Richard Sax said Johnson ruthlessly attacked O’Donnell, not for her bike, but to rape her.

“He took everything from her — her dignity, her womanhood, her freedom, her life,” Sax said.

He called the DNA evidence, which included Johnson’s sperm found on Sabina, more than reliable. He also pointed to surveillance video which appears to show Johnson riding his bicycle in the area around the time of the crime.

Sax also referred to a medical examiner’s testimony that O’Donnell was strangled with her bra for three to five minutes, indicating Johnson intended to kill O’Donnell so that she could not identify him.

The jury will continue deliberations today. Johnson is charged with first-degree murder, rape, robbery and other charges. If convicted of first-degree murder, he will receive a mandatory life sentence.

Memory questions

A central issue in the case was whether Johnson had the capacity to understand the statement he gave to police and whether his final version of what happened was ultimately the truth.

Johnson’s attorney, Gary Server, blamed the variations in Johnson’s accounts on an impaired memory.

“He tells five different stories. … There are reasons why he’s incapable of telling the truth. His memory is impaired,” Server said during closing arguments before the case was handed over to the jury. Assistant District Attorney Richard Sax claimed that Johnson had no trouble recalling the details for detectives.

“Everything about this case was visual. You don’t forget what you did to that girl,” Sax said, looking at Johnson. “And you never will.”

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