Jury convicts suspect in couple’s killings

Man lost plea bargain after refusing to testify against two co-defendants

? A man who lost his plea bargain deal when he refused to testify against his cousin and another co-defendant has been convicted of first-degree murder charges in the killing a St. Joseph couple.

The jurors, who were brought to Buchanan County from the Franklin County town of Union, deliberated about three hours Wednesday before finding Kenderal Rogers guilty in the April 2004 killings.

The victims, Danny Watson Jr., 31, and Dawn Thornton, 28, were shot to death in a house where they had moved about two months earlier.

Police believe the intruders were looking for someone who used to live in the house – a suspected drug dealer said to have owed one of the suspects $800.

“This has been a long time in the legal system, but it worked,” said Thornton’s father, Kenny Thornton.

Initially, Rogers, 21, was to have pleaded guilty to two second-degree murder charges, with the state recommending no more than 30 years on each count.

But after he refused to testify against Terrell Dawson and a cousin, Javonty Steward, those charges were dismissed and replaced with six others – two of first-degree murder, two of armed criminal action, one of kidnapping and one of first-degree burglary.

Each of the first-degree murder convictions carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the chance of probation or parole. Jurors also recommended he serve an additional two 101-year sentences for the armed criminal action counts and 15 years each for the kidnapping and burglary charges.

“It’s amazing that two juries from two different parts of the state in two years came to the same conclusion,” Prosecuting Atty. Dwight Scroggins said, noting jurors from Boone County had convicted Steward and Dawson in October. “The juries were amazingly consistent. They saw basically the same case with little variation.”

Rogers’ public defender, Mona Spencer, said she would appeal.

Judge Dan Kellogg will consider her motion for a new trial Sept. 22 during a sentencing hearing.