Public Information Officer
PCSO Detectives Arrest Four Suspects For First Degree Murder, One for Accessory
On Wednesday, March 9, 2016, PCSO Homicide detectives, working with the Sumter County Sheriff's Office and Lakeland Police Department, arrested four suspects - three brothers and an accomplice - for First Degree Murder, and another suspect - the father of the three brothers - for Accessory After the Fact, in the homicide of Lakeland resident, 31-year-old Robert Banks. According to the affidavits, Banks' body was found in January 2016, by two people trail riding in the Richloam Wildlife Management Area in Sumter County. His death was ruled a homicide. The following are excerpts from the suspects' affidavits:
- On the morning of January 15, 2016, the Sumter County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) responded to the area of SR 471 and Center Grade Rd, Webster, in reference to a deceased person. Two men trail riding in the Richloam Wildlife Management Area, discovered the body, which appeared to have been burned.
- The body was identified via fingerprints as 31 yr old Robert Banks, of 1031 Woodland Ave, Lakeland.
- An autopsy was performed by Dr. Barbara Wolf, M.E., and the manner of death was ruled homicide, the cause of death blunt force trauma. Further, Dr. Wolf determined the decedent was not alive when he was burned.
- On January 21, 2016, SCSO Detective Darren Norris and Lakeland Police Detective Tammy Hathcock conducted a sworn audio recorded interview with David Klein, Banks' friend & roommate. David told detectives on January 14, 2016, he followed Banks to 2926 Voulsen Lane, Lakeland, so Banks could sell K-2. David said he left Robert at this residence and never saw him again.
- On January 22, 2016, SCSO & LPD detectives went to 2926 Vousden Lane andmade contact with the occupants: Anthony Johnson, Thalia Velez, and Michael Gunn; they all denied any knowledge of knowing Robert, or him having ever being at their residence.
- Throughout January 2016, detectives continued to interview known associates of Robert Banks.
- On March 3, 2016, Detective Norris and Detective Hathcock conducted a sworn audio recorded interview with Charles Wilson. Charles said he knew the victim, Robert Banks, and that he knew who killed him - he said Anthony Johnson told Charles that he did not have to worry about Robert anymore because Robert is dead. Charles later learned that Robert had in fact been murdered.
- Charles said a few days later, while he was visiting Weber Street, Anthony approached him again and said "they caught Robert raping [someone], so they beat his butt." Anthony told Charles that his father, Brian Johnson Sr., then helped him take the body to another location, where they burned him. Anthony added that they sodomized Robert with a flashlight because he raped someone.
- On March 4, 2016, Detective Norris, Detective Hampton, and Polk County Sheriff's Office homicide detectives met again with Charles Wilson. Charles reported that on March 4, 2016, he met with Anthony Johnson, Thalia Velez, and another brother of Anthony's at the McDonald's on Combee Rd, then went to their Vousden Lane house. While at the residence, Anthony took out a white cell phone and showed Charles a photograph of Robert Banks lying in a supine position wearing a blue shirt and either shorts or underwear. Charles said he could tell Robert was dead.
- On March 5, 2016, a search warrant was executed at 2629 Vousden Lane, Lakeland. At that time, five people were present, Anthony Johnson, Brian Johnson Jr., Nathan Johnson, Michael Gunn, and Thalia Velez, during which a burn pile was observed in the front driveway area. Within the burn pile, there were metal springs as if a mattress were burned. All of the occupants of the residence, except Michael Gunn, advised a mattress had been burned there.
- On March 8, 2016, contact was made with Alisha Addison who told detectives a friend of hers told her she had been raped by a man named Robert. The woman told her the three suspects (Brian Johnson Jr., Nathan Johnson, and Anthony Johnson) "may be going to prison" because they killed Robert. She said the suspects had beat him to death and "shoved a flashlight up his ---" for raping her.
- On March 8, 2016, a sworn recorded interview was conducted with the alleged rape victim. She advised: On January 14, 2016, she was the victim of a rape at a residence on Woodland Street, Lakeland. The person who raped her was a man named Robert. On January 15, 2016, she told Anthony Johnson about the rape and requested he not allow Robert back at the residence. When she told Anthony about the rape, his girlfriend, Thalia was present.
- A day or two later, she told Anthony that she was going to report the rape - he told her not to report it because they (he, his brothers, and Michael Gunn) had killed him.
- They told her that they had beaten him to death with their fists, a pipe, and an extension cord. Also, Nathan said, he had sodomized Robert with a flashlight and while doing so, the others (Anthony, Nathan, and Michael) were kicking him and asking him if "he liked it."
- After he was dead, they wrapped him in a blanket - they said it was an old blanket which had a floral pattern (which matched the description of the burned blanket). Then, they called their father Brian Johnson Sr. and informed him of what happened. Their father came to the residence with his black Jeep Cherokee, helped them load Robert into the cargo area, and transported him to a wooded area in Sumter County. Once there, they attempted to burn his body.
- The four people that the alleged rape victim was told took the body to Sumter County were Brian Johnson Sr., Michael Gunn, Brian Johnson Jr., and Nathan Johnson. Additionally, Nathan texted images and Brian Jr. sent Facebook messages to her with images of Robert deceased. In those images, he was lying on a bed in the Vousden Lane residence - he was wearing a blue in color shirt and underwear only.
- On March 8, 2016, Brian Jr.'s girlfriend Thalia Velez was interviewed by PCSO detectives. She told detectives that one day in January 2016, a woman known to all parties arrived at the residence on Vousden Lane and told Anthony and her that she had been raped by a man whom they know, Robert. The alleged rape victim requested they not allow Robert back at the residence. Later that day, Anthony informed his brothers, Nathan and Brian Johnson Jr., as well as Michael Gunn, about the woman being raped.
- After learning about the rape, the four males planned to call Robert via telephone and request he bring them K-2 (syntheticmarijuana). Then, when he arrived, they were going to kill him.
- Thalia Velez witnessed Anthony call Robert and request he bring K-2. When Robert arrived, he came into the residence. Michael Gunn secured the door so that Robert could not leave. Then, Anthony, Nathan, Michael, and Brian Jr. all attacked Robert.
- They told detectives they beat him with their fists, a metal pipe, and tied an extension cord around his neck. While beating him, Nathan and Michael sodomized Robert with a flashlight. All the while, Anthony and Brian continued beating and kicking Robert in the head and torso.
Based on the above stated facts, it was determined: Anthony Johnson, Nathan Johnson, Brian Johnson Jr., and Michael Gunn unlawfully killed Robert Banks, which was perpetrated from a premeditated design. Additionally, they conspired to commit this murder and after the fact, tampered with physical evidence associated with a capital felony investigation. Also, Brian Johnson Sr., in aiding in the moving of and burning of Banks' body, became an accessory after the fact and tampered with physical evidence associated with a capital felony investigation.
- After Robert was dead, the males moved his body to a bed in the residence. They took photographs of him dead. The males wrapped Robert up in a blanket with a flowered pattern. Then, Brian Johnson Sr. arrived in his black in color Jeep Cherokee and backed it up to the residence. At that time, Robert's body was loaded into the cargo area of the vehicle. Then, Brian Johnson Sr, Michael Gunn, and Nathan Johnson got into the vehicle and left the residence. Later, Michael told her that they had taken the body to Sumter County and burned him.