According to an initial Michigan State Police lab report, convicted Detroit drug dealer Jimmy Lattner’s DNA was on the murder weapon in the killing of his girlfriend Julii Johnson on the morning of January 13, 2017 in front of his residence in Warren, Michigan. A second test of the 9 millimeter Smith & Wesson handgun used to kill Johnson though didn’t have any trace of Lattner’s DNA on the weapon. Traces of DNA belonging to Eric Gibson, the alleged shooter in what has been described as a contract hit, were present in both tests conducted by the state police lab.
The mix-up by investigators was the focus of testimony at Gibson’s trial this past week in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. Prosecutors contend that Gibson was hired to bump off Johnson at the behest of Lattner’s scorned ex-girlfriend and mother of his children Marcie Griffin and that Griffin used gangster-turned-businessman George (G.G.) Rider as the go-between for the job. Attorneys for Griffin and Rider believe it was actually Lattner who put out the contract on Johnson and he used a domestic dustup he had with Griffin caught on video in the weeks before the murder as a cover.
The 44-year old Lattner was originally the prime suspect in Johnson’s slaying, per sources, but after a few weeks, police discarded him as a possible “doer” and decided to center their attention on Griffin and Rider, long a target for federal law enforcement since his public reinvention following his release from a prison term in the 2000s.
Lattner has been nailed twice for narcotics trafficking (1997, 2001). When police searched his home in the wake of Johnson’s murder, they found over $500,000 in cash that drug dogs recognized the scent of cocaine on. A search of his truck found a 9 millimeter Ruger pistol. He’s currently charged with being a felon in possession of an illegal weapon. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment upon being called to testify at a pretrial hearing in Griffin and Rider’s case regarding the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s murder.
Michigan State Police crime lab techs tested both the Ruger recovered from Lattner’s truck and the Smith & Wesson used in the murder for DNA. Three lab techs testified Wednesday that on the first go-around they might have inadvertently switched the samples around, recording results from the Ruger as results from the Smith & Wesson and vice versa. This discovery prompted a second set of tests, which in the end provided the official results for the murder investigation.
An email chain between the head lab tech, Jennifer Jones and her superiors in the MSP shows Jones was alerted her first test of the two guns “didn’t make sense” and were “inconsistent with the case facts as described by the Warren Police”, who were “trying to place a (different) suspect on this weapon (the Ruger).” That suspect was Lattner, whose prints were not originally found on the gun he had in his truck.
There were other reasons besides DNA evidence for police to be suspicious of Lattner. The description of the shooter by an eye witness matched what Lattner was wearing on the morning of Johnson’s murder and a police dog tracked a scent from the shooter going away from the scene of the crime and then returning in the direction towards Lattner’s front door. Cell phone records show he made two calls in the minutes before Johnson was shot and at least one prior to alerting authorities or Johnson’s family. When police arrived on the scene, Lattner’s truck was “hot,” appearing to have recently been driven.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Lattner led the World Domination drug gang. He did six years in prison and came out in 2011.
Around the time of the murder, Griffin was feuding with Lattner and Johnson about Johnson’s treatment of the pair’s children. Lattner had left Griffin for Johnson. Lattner’s nephew provided police with an IPhone video of Griffin storming into a car wash Lattner owns and threatening Lattner and Johnson.
The only evidence connecting Griffin and Rider is text messages from Griffin to a cell phone registered to one of Rider’s businesses (Midwest Entertainment) expressing anger towards Lattner and Johnson and an exchange on the day Johnson was killed saying “it was a beautiful morning.” The lone possible tie between Rider and Gibson are cell phone pings placing them in the same vicinity on the day of the murder.
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