Just over a month ago, a judge allowed Devaughn Johnson to be shielded from view in court after he was linked to a stabbing death in Haverhill.
But in a Zoom court hearing last week, court officials and members of the victim’s family were able to see Johnson’s face — complete with tattoos of what appear to be devil’s horns on his forehead and a cross between his eyes.
Johnson had not been seen publicly since his arraignment Nov. 29, when Haverhill District Court Judge Cesar Archilla allowed Johnson to remain out of view of the public. The judge’s decision came after a private discussion with lawyers for the prosecution and defense. Court officials later said the discussion and ruling had to do with protecting Johnson’s identity for the sake of the murder investigation and court case.
Johnson appeared on Zoom last Tuesday in a hearing related to the stabbing death of 26-year-old Jose Vasquez of Haverhill, who police said had a history of gang involvement. Johnson’s presence in the electronic hearing — the method used by courts during the pandemic —caused a stir among people observing the hearing electronically. The judge told the court clerk several times to put hearing observers on mute after they spoke out of turn or used profanity.
In one instance, a male observer used profanity and a racial slur to describe other hearing observers. Another male observer hurled expletives at a woman and called her “dog food.” When the hearing ended and Johnson got up to leave his position in front of a video camera, a male voice on the Zoom call told Johnson to “go back to ‘PC’ (protective custody)’’ and used profanity to describe him.
Johnson is one of three defendants being held in the Nov. 21 murder of Vasquez. Police said Johnson was arrested Nov. 25 in Haverhill’s Mount Washington neighborhood and charged with accessory to murder after the fact. Details about the murder are scarce, as the judge decided during the case’s first court session to impound all related police reports and other documents. As a result, only information shared in open court has been available to the media and the public.
Johnson’s arrest followed the arrest of David Trongeau, 19, who is charged with stabbing Vasquez to death following an incident at the victim’s home on Marble Street in Haverhill. Several days after the murder, a State Police fugitive unit arrested Trongeau in a home in the city of Taunton, Massachusetts, where he had been hiding, investigators said. At the time of his arrest, Trongeau was on probation for a 2019 shooting in Haverhill that court officials said was gang related.
Police said both Johnson and Vasquez have been involved with gangs in the past. On last Tuesday’s Zoom call, two representatives from the anti-gang organization UTEC listened in on the hearing, but did not speak.
In court last Tuesday, the judge ordered that both Trongeau and Johnson will continue to be held without bail until their next hearings, scheduled for late January. A third defendant charged in the murder, Kaiden Henderson, is scheduled for a court appearance on Jan. 14, according to court officials.
Despite the objection of Johnson’s defense attorney John Morris, the judge delayed a probation surrender hearing, during which the probation department presents facts in support of a probation violation.
According to the probation department, Johnson violated his probation in a previous case by testing positive for cocaine in late October. When he was arrested in connection with the murder of Vasquez, that new charge also triggered a probation violation, court officials said.
Morris said he’s not sure how either violation — the drug test showing cocaine use by Johnson or the accessory to murder charge — will be proven.