COA Upholds 2016 Murder Conviction


Olivia Covington for

A man convicted in the 2016 murder of his ex-girlfriend’s husband has lost his appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals, which found the trial court did not err in excluding proffered evidence the man sought to admit supporting his self-defense claim.

In Zechariah James v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1708-CR-1792, Zechariah James and Danitra Johnson had a daughter together before the couple broke up and Johnson married Antoan Johnson. The parties had a difficult relationship, but it improved to the point where James’ ex-girlfriend helped him purchase a vehicle and listed her name on the bill of sale.

James used the vehicle to drive to a nightclub on April 10, 2016, when his car was towed. James was permitted to retrieve the bill of sale from his car, but he also retrieved his gun. When the staff at the tow yard learned Danitra’s name was listed on the bill of sale, they would not release the vehicle to James.

Thus, James tried to reach his ex-girlfriend multiple times, but she refused to respond given the late hour. James eventually called Antoan and asked for Danitra’s help, but became angry when Antoan told him he would have to pay for their assistance.

James told Antoan he “was going to pull up on him,” so the couple tried to leave their home. However, James arrived at the home as they were leaving, so the Johnsons agreed to accompany him to the tow yard with a plan to evade him in their own vehicle.

After making a sudden U-turn, the couple believed the vehicle James was in had continued to the tow yard. However, James soon appeared at their car window with his gun, entered the vehicle and shot Antoan multiple times in the back, killing him.

Danitra fled and called police, and the state charged James with murder and Level 4 felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. At a bifurcated trial on the murder charge, James claimed self-defense and sought to introduce evidence that Antoan had threatened to kill him in 2014. The Marion Superior Court, however, excluded that evidence as not relevant, and James was found guilty.

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld James’ conviction on Friday, with Judge Cale Bradford writing that the alleged threat was made two years prior to the murder and at a time when the parties had a contentious relationship. Considering the amount of time that had passed and their improved relationship, Bradford said the alleged threat was too remote to be relevant to James’ self-defense claim, so the trial court did not err in excluding it.