Judge Sentences Murder Defendant to 40 Years

A DC Superior Court judge sentenced a murder defendant to 40 years in prison.

In February 2020, a jury found Herman Cook, Jr. guilty of first-degree murder while armed in the shooting of 45-year-old Donald Johnson Jr. on the 5700 block of George Avenue, NW, on Aug. 8, 2016. Cook, 50, was also convicted of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and possession of a firearm with a prior conviction.

Johnson’s family was present in court during the Oct. 18 sentencing.  His father said the defendant “does not deserve mercy” and called him a coward. Johnson’s mother said the defendant has broken her heart.

According to a Department of Justice press release, Johnson was struck once in the neck and twice in the back.

Johnson’s brother and sister also made statements. His sister called Cook a “danger to society”. 

Cook made a brief statement, saying he did not plan on murdering Johnson. He said they had talked on the phone multiple times to discuss their disagreement and he had a lot to lose.

Defense attorney William Buie III said mutual friends of the defendant and the victim said they were like brothers, but there had been a disagreement between the two. Buie asked Judge Juliet McKenna to sentence the defendant to the minimum sentence of 30 years for first-degree murder while armed.

The prosecution, however, recommended a 40-year sentence. They said the case was unusual because, while most murder cases are young people acting reckless, Cook was in his mid-40s when he killed Johnson. The two had met in college and stayed friends for over 25 years. The prosecution said the defendant put other people, including children, at risk because of his actions.

Judge McKenna called the crime a “senseless act.” She sentenced the Cook to 40 years in prison for murder, seven years for the possession of a firearm during a crime of violence charge and three years for the unlawful possession of a firearm charge. The sentences are to run concurrent. The defendant was given five years of supervised release and must register as a gun offender.