A murder suspect in a teen’s slaying found guilty of shooting an Arlington police officer was sentenced to four years in prison on Tuesday.
Prosecutors had described the convicted 26-year-old man as an avid gun enthusiast during his trial this past week.
Joel Conner McCommon was described as enthusiastic about retrieving his gun from Jordan Miles, a 17-year-old man who he shot to death, and enthusiastic about warding off police with that same gun less than 48 hours later. McCommon was wounded in a shootout with police officers during that exchange of gunfire.
“He was a college student who was smoking pot who successfully defended himself in a robbery,” his attorney, Deric Walpole, said. “There are five bullet holes around that door handle. Two of those bullets went into my client,” Walpole said about the shootout with police.
Eddie Johnston, the Arlington police officer McCommon wounded, testified Tuesday that the first thought that went through his mind after he got shot was that his wife was going to kill him. Had the bullet fired by the defendant traveled an inch in another direction, it would have hit a major artery and his circumstances would have been much worse, Johnston said.
Investigators later discovered that the bullet first struck his Taser and his gun belt before lodging in his hip, Johnston said.
“My wife had to see victims assistance to learn how to explain to a 4- and a 6-year-old that their dad had been shot,” Johnston said. “Every day before I leave for work my 6-year-old tells me, ‘Dad, don’t get shot today.’ We try to laugh it off. To this day, I haven’t been able to tell them about it. They still don’t know the details.”
Defendant faced 20 years
The jury took nearly six hours on Friday to convict McCommon of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for wounding the Arlington officer. Had he been convicted of the initial aggravated assault on a peace officer charge, McCommon could have received a life prison sentence. The maximum penalty for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge is 20 years.
McCommon could still face a murder trial in connection with Miles’ death, prosecutors said.
“I’m pleased with how hard the jury worked in order to reach their decision on both innocence and punishment,” Walpole said.
Four years was not the sentence the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office wanted.
“The jury obviously deliberated at great length about what punishment they felt was appropriate for this defendant,” said Tim Rodgers, Tarrant County assistant district attorney. “What’s important is that the men and women in law enforcement know how important it is that people be held accountable.”
Because he had no criminal history and had complied with the conditions of his bond, McCommon was eligible to receive probation for this conviction.
“Conner never set out to harm anyone,” Walpole told the jury during his closing arguments. “Conner set out to make 10 or 15 bucks by selling marijuana to someone he didn’t know.”
Sending McCommon to prison, according to Walpole, just makes a bad situation worse.
“He’s not evil,” Walpole said. “He made a mistake and it’s not going to happen again. Nothing like this is ever going to happen again. Grant probation. That makes sense. Sending him to prison when he didn’t intend to harm anybody. That’s wrath. That’s vengeance. Those are the worst parts of us. The best parts of us are forgiveness, compassion.”
The best parts of us are bravery and selflessness, the characteristics of the officers who stood outside McCommon’s door before he sent Johnston to the hospital with a bullet wound, Rodgers said.
If McCommon believed he had acted in self defense when he fatally shot Miles, he should have called the police, Rodgers said.
“His only defense was I didn’t want to get into any trouble,” Rodgers said. “What does that tell you about his character? There has to be justice for the blood that has been spilled by his hand.”
He planned to sell a small amount of marijuana
McCommon told police he planned to sell a small amount of marijuana to a girl he met online, but he was met by Miles and two of his friends instead.
The four men climbed into McCommon’s 2006 red Nissan Altima, when Miles pulled a fake gun and the four men began fighting, according to witness testimony.
A gunshot rang out and Miles grabbed McCommon’s real gun and dropped his fake gun in the car, and then stumbled away as his two friends ran, police said.
According to evidence presented by prosecutors, McCommon followed Miles a short distance, beat him and then stood over him yelling: “Where’s my money?” McCommon retrieved his gun from Miles and drove away, according to police.
Less than 48 hours later, when he heard police officers knock incessantly on his apartment door on April 25, 2016, McCommon looked out of the peephole and saw no one, but believed it was friends of the man he had killed come to pay him a visit.
McCommon testified that he partially opened the door, heard someone yell, and then he fired without aiming, hitting Johnston once in the hip. Police never announced that they were at the door, McCommon testified.
“My conduct was reckless,” said Dawn Ferguson, Tarrant County prosecutor. “Those are his own words. If you believe his story that he stuck his arm outside that door and shot wildly. A reasonable, ordinary person would not do that.”
“You can’t trust him on probation,” Ferguson said.