Moments before a Philadelphia judge sentenced him to prison, David Grier stood in court and professed his innocence in the 2017 murder of art student Kierra Johnson, a grisly crime for which he was found guilty last week.
“Your honor,” he told the judge, “you could not win a game of Clue with this evidence.”
Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara A. McDermott was unwavering. On Tuesday, she sentenced Grier, 26, to life in prison without the chance of parole, the mandatory sentence in Pennsylvania for first-degree murder, telling him: “You deserve every single day that you get with that life in prison.”
Grier said prosecutors failed to show “evidence of wrongdoing on my part.” He vowed he would appeal the conviction and, as he did through the trial, continue to represent himself.
The hour-long sentencing hearing capped a lengthy court process after the killing of Johnson, 21, who was found strangled in November 2017, her body dumped in Cobbs Creek in West Philadelphia. Johnson, a peace-loving art student at Hussian College in the city’s Spring Garden section, had befriended Grier while both were attending high school in Philadelphia.
Grier became infatuated with her, prosecutors told the jury last week. Jurors also saw surveillance footage showing the pair walking together near Cobbs Creek in the hours before Johnson was killed. Grier’s DNA was found under her fingernails.
In sentencing Grier, McDermott said she considered his history: Eight months before Johnson was killed, Grier pleaded no contest to charges stemming from a September 2016 incident in California during which he was accused of stabbing two people and biting another. One of the victims said Grier had tried to strangle him.
Grier, who was on parole when Johnson was killed, described the California incident as a “three-on-one” fight.
Jurors were not told of the previous incident during the murder trial, as McDermott had ruled it would unfairly prejudice them. But at sentencing Tuesday, she said it was “extremely relevant.”
She also considered victim-impact statements made by Johnson’s parents. Her father, Rusten Johnson, told the judge: “The traumatic stress I was feeling every minute of the day was unbearable.”
“I was so broken-hearted that it felt like my heart was actually breaking, like I was having a heart attack,” he said. “Kierra was a shooting star.”
He said that in the early months after his daughter’s killing, he suppressed his desire for vengeance in honor of the Philadelphia police officers in his family, including one who lived near where his daughter’s body was found.
When Rusten Johnson finished speaking, Grier was given the opportunity to question him. He asked the grieving father about his relatives who lived nearby, saying: “Where was your family?”
Rusten Johnson responded curtly: “Right across the street from where you killed her.”
After the tense exchange, Grier asked the judge if that information had been provided to detectives. McDermott told Grier his questions were irrelevant.
McDermott also heard a statement read by Johnson’s mother, who spoke directly to Grier. She said her daughter had told her that Grier was a social outcast but that “everyone deserved a friend.”
“You murdered the one person in the world who would go to bat for you,” Sherri Johnson said via Zoom. “You shattered my heart into a million pieces. You didn’t deserve her.”
She continued: “I’m hurt. I’m angry. I do not forgive you without apologies.”
McDermott invoked her words as she sentenced Grier, adding: “I’ll never understand how you could do what you did.”
Grier collected his paperwork and was escorted out of the room. He’ll be processed at the State Correctional Institution Phoenix and transferred to another state facility to serve his sentence.