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China Cafe robbery suspect shoots himself before capture

Faced with a potential murder charge for participating in the Oct. 11 armed robbery and shootout at the China Cafe in Fayetteville, Leandro Bernard Johnson, 27, surely knew his days as a free man were over.

Instead of surrendering to a group of armed marshals Tuesday morning, Johnson ended his own life with a single gunshot wound to the head, officials said.

His lifeless body, a handgun laying beside it, was found in the closet of a relative’s apartment in Covington, according to U.S. Marshals Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force Supervisor Jim Joyner.

Johnson’s death is being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Joyner said.

Meanwhile, a China Cafe employee remained hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday, some 11 days after the incident.

Fayetteville police said Johnson and Alonzo Starks stormed into the restaurant Oct. 11 shortly before 11 p.m. brandishing handguns and holding three employees at bay. One of the employees drew a gun and fired several shots at Starks, one of which hit him in the head, police said. Johnson returned fire, shooting another restaurant employee before he and Starks fled to a getaway vehicle, police said.

By that point, Starks was bleeding significantly and he died some time after the shooting, police said. His body was recovered two days later at an abandoned home in Morrow, police said.

The alleged getaway driver, Alvin Scott, 26, of Jonesboro, was arrested Oct. 14 as police followed a tip from one of Starks’ relatives who suspected he was involved in the shooting.

When the fugitive task force found Johnson’s body Tuesday morning, agents first made contact with Johnson’s relative and she confirmed that he was inside the apartment, Joyner said. Johnson’s body was discovered in the closet as the agents were clearing the apartment, Joyner added.

“We’d rather have him stand trial and be convicted by a jury of his peers,” Joyner said. “But based on what I understand, he knew what he was looking at, what he was facing, and that might have been his motivation.”

Scott in the meantime is the only one of the three men in the robbery crew left alive to stand trial. Currently in the Fayette County Jail, Scott has been charged with one count of murder, seven counts of aggravated assault, six counts of kidnapping and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

The murder charge stems from the death of Starks, based on the legal theory that by participating in the armed robbery, a felony, Scott can be charged with murder even though he was not the one who fired the deadly shot.

Johnson has a rap sheet in Clayton County, according to Clayton court records. He was paroled in May by state officials after serving just over seven months of a one-year sentence stemming from a felony aggravated assault conviction in Clayton County.

Johnson had nine years’ probation tacked on to that sentence, and Clayton prosecutors dismissed four other charges filed against him in the case as part of a negotiated plea.

Prior to the aggravated assault conviction, Johnson appeared in Clayton County courts on a variety of other charges including entering an auto, obstruction of a police officer, theft by shoplifting and others.

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