BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Johnathan Brown, a Bristol, Virginia Police (BVPD) Officer facing murder charges in connection to a shooting in 2021, pleaded not guilty to all charges on Monday.
Brown was indicted on multiple charges after the March 2021 fatal shooting of Jonathen Kohler in an incident outside of a motel in Bristol. He remains suspended without pay by the BVPD.
Judge Sage Johnson opened Brown’s court appearance with issues previously raised in motion hearings, stating that cell phone records obtained by a Virginia State Police special agent would not be used in the trial.
Judge Johnson said the court believes the warrant obtained for the device’s contents was overbroad since it included all records on the phone and that there was not sufficient probable cause to request records from before the date of the shooting. Prosecutors from the Commonwealth said they disagreed with the court’s findings, but they did not object to the ruling.
The court also declined the use of demonstrative evidence during opening statements unless both sides agreed on their use. Johnson said the use of demonstratives is prohibited by default.
Once prior issues were resolved, Johnson then asked Brown to enter a plea. Brown pleaded not guilty to the state’s charges of murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a murder and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle. Brown also told the court that he had not been offered a plea deal by state prosecutors.
After Brown’s plea, potential jurors were screened by the court. Each potential juror, 92 in all, was asked to complete a questionnaire which Judge Johnson said contained 15-16 questions. Their answers to each question were then used by both legal teams to determine whether the person in question would remain impartial during the trial.
Brown’s defense also submitted affirmative defenses of Brown’s alleged actions to the court, which the Legal Information Institute defines as evidence that would remove criminal liability if proven credible.
In previous decisions in the case, Judge Johnson determined that the testimony of a witness present at another fatal shooting involving Brown would be only partially admissible. In a letter to both legal teams, Johnson said that evidence surrounding the 2018 fatal shooting of an allegedly armed suicidal man can only be used as a rebuttal if the defense tries to submit evidence that demonstrates a pattern of aggression in Kohler’s behavior.