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Powell pleads guilty in shooting

BY KAT RUSSELL krussell@paducahsun.com

The first of three men accused in last year's fatal shooting at the Brickhouse, a nightclub near Lower Town, accepted a plea deal Thursday morning.

Denzell Powell, 23, faced charges of murder and three counts each of first-degree wanton endangerment and first-degree criminal mischief in two separate cases.

The murder charge stems from a shooting April 16, 2016, that resulted in the death of a bystander, 46-year-old Gary Johnson.

The remaining charges stem from previous incidents in which Powell shot at two vehicles.

In court Thursday, Powell pleaded guilty to an amended charge of second-degree manslaughter and the other six counts.

The commonwealth recommended a 10-year sentence on the first count and three years each for the other charges, all to run concurrently for a total of 10 years.

The agreement also stipulated that Powell would testify truthfully against the other two defendants, Christopher Smith and Tracell Nunn.

Smith, 34, and Nunn, 27, are also charged with murder in Johnson's death. Each additionally face charges of attempted murder and convicted felon in possession of a handgun, and Nunn has a charge of persistent felony offender.

The attempted murder charges stem from Smith and Nunn shooting at Powell with the intent to kill him, according to the McCracken grand jury indictment.

Nunn's trial is scheduled for May 15, and Smith has a pretrial conference set for May 19.

Following the hearing, Powell's defense attorney Brandi Jones said despite her client's insistence that he fired in self-defense, accepting the plea agreement far outweighed the risks of going to trial.

"We have said from the beginning that there is ample evidence that Smith and Nunn opened fire first," she said. "Their actions are what led to this happening. But in the end, we had to mitigate the risks of going to trial and I think it was a very fair outcome for what happened."

Jones said her client regrets Johnson's death.

"From the very beginning he has felt absolute remorse for what happened," she said. "This is absolutely a tragic scenario. He's taken responsibility for his part in what happened, and at the end of the day I think this is a just outcome."

For Gary Johnson's brother Darryl Johnson, Powell's plea means the Johnson family is now "one step closer to closure."

"It's been a tough year," he said. "Gary was my only brother. Personally I forgive (Powell), because it's been a lot for me to carry. I still struggle with the pain every day but (Powell, Smith and Nunn) are going to have to carry the guilt."

Johnson described his younger brother as a family man who was adored by his nieces and nephews, and was "always helping somebody."

Not a day goes by, he said, that he's not reminded of his brother.

"I'll see someone walking on the street and maybe he walked like Gary or I'll hear a laugh that sounds like Gary's or I'll be cooking and realize I'm making Gary's favorite meal," he said. "And that's daily."

This past Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of his brother's death. Darryl Johnson said he and his family members gathered at the Paducah riverfront and released balloons in his brother's memory.

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