An Everman woman who has been sitting in jail since January 2016 on a capital murder charge has been released after prosecutors determined the evidence against her was insufficient.
Candra Lanay Sanders, 22, barely knew the men who are awaiting trial on capital murder charges, according to her attorney, Wes Ball.
“A friend of hers asked her to ride with her while she picked up these two men, and they picked them up and then they dropped them off,” Ball said. “They had no idea that they had just killed Chester Johnson.”
Chester Lee Johnson Jr., 32, a former track star at Fort Worth Wyatt High School, was found shot in his 1999 four-door Acura at about 2:20 a.m. on Nov. 10, 2016, in the 3700 block of Village Creek Road in east Fort Worth. Johnson was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, where he died from gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen.
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Ball said police had no business presenting Sanders’ case to the district attorney’s office. She was indicted in March 2016.
“Really, this case should have never gone to the grand jury,” Ball said.
But a detective who worked the case said that there was an uncooperative witness who ultimately caused the case against Sanders to be dismissed. Sanders was the person who knew Johnson and the one who coordinated the robbery, said Fort Worth Det. Jerry Cedillo.
Two men, William James Harris, 23, and Anthony Tyrell Marshal, 18, were arrested and are awaiting trial in connection with Johnson’s death. Both are charged with capital murder and remain in the Tarrant County Jail with bonds set at $250,000.
Marshal admitted to shooting Johnson and told investigators that he, Harris and Sanders had planned to rob Johnson of his drugs.
Marshal claimed that Sanders had enlisted their help because she was upset that Johnson had threatened her if she didn’t stop selling crack cocaine in his area, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Marshal told detectives that although the plan was to grab Johnson’s crack cocaine and run, he shot into the car after an argument broke out, the affidavit states.
“Sanders set them up,” Cedillo said. “She was the common denominator between everyone involved. I believe Candra is just as responsible as Anthony Marshal and Willie Harris. If we had not had enough evidence a judge would not have signed a warrant and a grand jury would not have indicted her.”
Cedillo said he voiced his disapproval when an official with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office told him they were not pursuing the case. There was evidence that Sanders drove Harris and Marshal to the robbery and picked them up afterward, Cedillo said. But without the corroborating statements from the other person in the vehicle the case against Sanders would not stand.
“There was a witness who refused to cooperate with the investigation who was in the vehicle with the three and that's what the DA’s office hung their hat on,” Cedillo said. “It’s the defense attorney’s job to muddy the water and get people off who are guilty. If we develop more evidence against Candra we will re-arrest her.”
You’d have to ask the detectives why they thought this was a case.
Wes Ball, attorney for Candra Lanay Sanders
Ball said that the only evidence authorities had that Sanders was a participant in the slaying was Marshal’s word.
“Texas law has long protected its citizens from being convicted of a crime based on the totally uncorroborated testimony of a criminal accomplice or co-defendant,” Ball said.
“The Fort Worth detectives became too giddy with excitement, they failed to look past the statements of Mr. Marshal and the law that protects citizens from such claims. Unfortunately, it took a great deal of time for this to be resolved, but the district attorney is to be commended for doing the right thing and correcting an initial injustice,” Ball said.
A statement from the Tarrant County district attorney office backed up Ball’s assessment of the case.
“Through the ongoing investigation of the case, evidence was not found to corroborate the co-defendant’s claim that Sanders was a participant,” Samantha Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office said.
Johnson ran track at Wyatt from 1998 to 2002, and excelled as a sprinter. As a sophomore in 2000, he was a member of the 400-meter relay team that won the Class 4A (now 5A) state title with a season-best time of 40.46 seconds.
His close friend and teammate, Darrent Williams, went on to play cornerback for the Denver Broncos. Williams, 24, had just finished his second NFL season when he was fatally shot Jan. 1, 2007, while leaving a Denver nightclub in a limousine.
This story includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.