A notorious 1990s Los Angeles killer known as ‘Big Evil’ is eligible for parole after serving more than 25 years on charges that once landed him on death row.
Cleamon “Big Evil” Johnson, 55, did not contest and was found guilty on Thursday of a single count of murder in a case stemming from five murders in the early 1990s when he was the leader of a small but disproportionately violent subset of the Bloods – the 89 Family Swans – in South Los Angeles.
Johnson was once on death row at San Quentin State Prison for two of the five murders, but the LAPD senior detective’s racist comments about the case prompted a judge to rule that Johnson would no longer be liable the death penalty or life imprisonment. without the possibility of parole if convicted in a new trial.
The convicted killer has already been in prison for more than 25 years, which means he is now eligible for parole, although that does not mean he will get it.
“I’ve been on this case for 16 years and I’m very pleased with the outcome,” said Bob Sager, Johnson’s defense attorney.
Johnson’s plea of no contest on Thursday came for the murder of Payton Beroit, who was shot and killed with his friend, Donald Loggins, in a car wash on 88th Street and Central Avenue in 1991.
While Johnson did not contest Beroit’s murder, charges were dropped against him in the murder of Loggins along with three others: Albert Sutton, Georgia Jones and Tyrone Mosley.
Johnson’s case has been bouncing around the court system for decades, with the California Supreme Court overturning his conviction in 2011 over a juror-related issue during his original trial.
But in 2014, the lead LAPD detective on the case, Brian McCartin, used the N-word when referring to black gang members while hanging out with an assistant district attorney and a public defender. The information was not passed on to Johnson’s defense until 2018. The comments became a flashpoint in Johnson’s case. In May 2022, the judge hearing the case ruled that McCartin’s comments and the four-year delay to turn them over to the defense were unfair to the defendant.
“A lot of unfortunate things happened in this case and it’s disheartening,” said Jon Lipsky, an FBI agent who worked on the case in the 1990s.
Although Lipsky said Johnson was a “ruthless killer,” he also believed McCartin’s comments and failure to deliver them promptly was a violation of the law.
“I believe in the rule of law,” Lipsky said, referring to the 25-year-to-life sentence. “I think it’s a fair and just decision.”
Yet Lipsky recalled Johnson as an “anomaly” in the Los Angeles gang world of the 1990s. While serving time at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe on a drug charge in the early 1990s, Johnson ran his gang with violent efficiency, Lipsky recalls, ordering code hits over phone calls. The scale of the murders Johnson and his gang were accused of committing was astounding, Lipsky said.
“It was unprecedented,” he said.
The only murder charge Johnson is now legally responsible for is a far cry from what police once charged him with. Police attributed “more than 20” murders to Johnson and his crew, according to a Times report in 1998. Johnson himself admitted to 13 murders at the time, Lipsky said.
In 1998, Johnson told The Times he was like an American soldier sent to “Vietnam…programmed to kill.”
“We couldn’t stop killing our enemies here either. I was one of them sick. They locked us up, but we needed help mentally,” he said. “I was the epitome of a gang member. I was real. … Some people worshiped Allah or Jesus. I loved the Bloods.
California Daily Newspapers