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Jury selection begins in Corey Johnson murder trial

Police say then-17-year-old fatally stabbed 13-year-old, wounded 2 others during 2018 sleepover in Palm Beach Gardens
Corey Johnson 2018 arrest photo
Posted at 9:04 AM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 09:07:59-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Jury selection was scheduled to begin Friday in the trial of a teenager accused of fatally stabbing a 13-year-old boy during a 2018 sleepover in Palm Beach Gardens.

Corey Johnson, now 21, is charged with first-degree murder in the March 12, 2018, stabbing death of Jovanni Sierra at a home in BallenIsles Country Club. He is also charged with two counts of attempted murder.

Palm Beach Gardens police said Johnson was a guest of Kyle Bancroft, 15, when he stabbed Sierra several times and slit his throat before attacking his friend's 13-year-old brother, Dane Bancroft, and his mother, Elaine Simon, who lived at the home.

Dane Bancroft was stabbed 32 times, while Simon was stabbed a dozen times. Both survived the attack.

Police said Johnson, who was 17 at the time, confessed to the knife attack, citing his Muslim faith as the motive.

A Jupiter police report later revealed that as recently as March 1 of that same year, the FBI had met with one of Johnson's friends as part of an investigation into terrorist threats.

Corey Johnson in court in 2018
Corey Johnson appears in a Palm Beach County courtroom in 2018.

During the investigation, Johnson's relatives told police he was fascinated with dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin and had recently been studying the Quran.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office also received information that Johnson watched several ISIS videos and wanted to join the terrorist organization.

According to the arrest affidavit, Johnson told police that Sierra was idolizing famous people and referencing them as gods, which went against his Muslim faith. Johnson also felt Dane Bancroft "made fun of" his Muslim faith, the affidavit said.

Just before the attack, Johnson was reading the Quran from his phone "to give him courage to carry out his intentions," the affidavit said.

Palm Beach County Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo recently denied a request by the prosecution to delay the start of the trial so that they could depose additional witnesses and review new evidence in the case.

Assistant State Attorney Jo Wilensky noted in her motion for continuance that the defense filed a witness list on Oct. 15 that included two new witnesses.

"These two individuals were 'interviewed' by experts for purposes of the insanity evaluations but were not trial witnesses and therefore not subject to discovery depositions," Wilensky wrote. "Their 'interviews' were not sworn or recorded."

Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout previously filed a notice of intent to seek an insanity defense.