Accused Somerton shooter arraigned

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The man accused of a fatal roadside shooting in December appeared Tuesday in Belmont County Common Pleas Court, where his his plea agreement deadline and trial dates were set.

Harold Johnson Jr., 45, of Lewisville pleaded innocent to aggravated murder with a firearm specification in a shooting that occurred Dec. 12. His pretrial was set for Jan. 23, with a plea agreement deadline Feb. 6 and trial date of Feb. 13. He remained in custody Tuesday at the Belmont County Jail, and his bond was continued at $1 million.

The charges stem from the shooting of Clint Stephens, 48, of Jerusalem. The deadly incident occurred on the side of Ohio 800 south of Somerton. Reports indicate that the two men met on the side of the road, and that Johnson exited his vehicle and allegedly shot Stephens, who was still inside his car.

Stephens was pronounced dead at the scene. His body was sent to Licking County, Ohio, for an autopsy.

The sheriff’s department declined to release any further information regarding any possible relationship between the two or any reason for the altercation, but Sheriff Dave Lucas previously said Johnson was arrested about 15 minutes after the shooting by Monroe County sheriff’s deputies in Malaga Township. Lucas also thanked witnesses at the scene for quickly contacting the authorities, which he said helped lead to a quick arrest.

If convicted, Johnson faces possible sentences including life without parole, life with the possibility of parole after 30 years, after 25 years or after 20 years. The firearms specification carries an additional three years, should he be convicted of it. The three years on that specification would be served before the life sentence, if one is imposed.

Should the case go to trial, Judge John Vavra noted that jury selection would take place at Marian Hall at St. Mary’s Church in St. Clairsville due to space constraints at the courthouse.

Regular arraignments remain scheduled for Thursday. Johnson was arraigned early due to transportation issues.