When Clifton resident Kempton Bonds was first tried for murder, this summer, the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared. The second time around, with a new jury, he was found not guilty.
A 2015 Robinson Secondary School graduate, Bonds was a seasonal employee of the Fairfax County Park Authority when the incident occurred, Aug. 6, 2016, at Cabell’s Mill in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. The victim was Tyonne Johns, 35, of Washington, D.C., and she had just catered a wedding there when Bonds fatally stabbed her.
However, the facts of the case aren’t that cut and dried, as the jury learned during the week-long trial that began Sept. 25 in Circuit Court. Bonds was just 19 when the wedding occurred, but he was there to protect the historic building and he took his job seriously. According to the wedding party, he was such a stickler for the rules that he and they clashed throughout the evening.
Bonds took down decorations not allowed to be taped to the walls of the historic building and removed fake rose petals from the grounds outside because they weren’t biodegradable. He also turned off the music at 9 p.m. when, according to the contract, it had to stop — an hour before the event ended at 10 p.m.
He and Johns never argued until it was cleanup time and her folding chairs were being separated from those provided by the Park Authority. But during the course of the wedding, Bonds felt so threatened by the wedding party that he started taping them on his phone. He even called his supervisor for advice, as well as the police, saying he feared for his wellbeing. And at one point, he had the police come to the site and talk to the others.
Bonds also videotaped the eight minutes before and after the stabbing, and the court watched that tape several times and heard what was said by everyone – including the personal threats and cursing of the wedding party and Johns toward Bonds.
The tensions ultimately boiled over when, on the patio, someone asked how many chairs the Park Authority provided and Bonds said, “80.” Johns reacted by walking swiftly toward Bonds and telling him to “Shut the f*#k up.” Bonds testified that Johns had him backed up against a railing, grabbed him around the neck and began choking him.
In his pocket was a folding knife he regularly used on the job to open boxes and, at home, to cut open bales of hay for his family’s horses. It was also special to him because it was made by his late father, who was a custom knife-maker. He said he only stabbed Johns with it to get her away from him and save his life.
Right before then, said Bonds, “People were yelling at me about how awful I was and how I’d ruined the evening.” Noting that the bride and groom had been the most verbally abusive toward him all night, he said it surprised him when the 60-pound-heavier Johns suddenly joined in and walked quickly toward him saying, “Boy, I’m gonna knock you out.”
“I was confused — it wasn’t her wedding,” said Bonds. “And as a caterer, she knew what it was like to deal with a bad wedding party. Her hands go up around my throat, she’s pushed me and I can’t breathe, I can’t move. I could feel her thumb digging into my neck. I open the knife in my pocket and stab her to get her off me. I scream for the police and yell for the others to stay away from me.”
Bonds shouted for the police to come help him because, when they were there earlier, they assured him they’d stay on the scene, just out of sight, in case he needed them again. But unbeknownst to him, they’d been called to an auto accident and had left.
Considering himself the victim of an assault, he then then called 911 to say he’d been attacked and asked police to come quickly. Bonds said he hadn’t realized he’d wounded Johns fatally until he heard it over the police radio in the squad car following his arrest.
Before the whole incident happened and derailed his plans, Bonds was looking forward to starting college last fall at VCU. And once the jury returned its “not guilty” verdict on Oct. 4, not only did it mean that the young man was exonerated, but also that he’s free to go on with his life.