Second defendant charged in Utica teen’s death pleads to weapons possession charge

One of two people initially charged in the death of a 17-year-old has pleaded guilty to a weapons charge.

Charles Phillips, 26, of Utica pleaded to felony second-degree criminal possession of a weapon Monday in Oneida County Court, his attorney Rebecca Wittman confirmed.

Phillips was initially charged with second-degree murder alongside 24-year-old Charisma Hunt of Utica in connection to the death of Jah’zeir Johnson.

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The Utica teenager was found suffering from gunshot wounds around midnight on Dec. 13, 2020, along the 1400 block of City Street in West Utica, Utica police reported. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Wittman said Phillips was prepared to go to trial Monday when a new plea offer was made by the prosecution with an understanding Phillips would be committed to eight years in state prison with five years of post-release supervision. A conviction of second-degree murder could have landed Phillips to 25 years to life in prison.

Hunt previously pleaded guilty Nov. 29, 2021, to first-degree manslaughter and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, both felonies, attorneys confirmed. She is scheduled to be Monday.

Hunt was arrested shortly after Johnson’s death, police reported. Phillips was not found by authorities until October 2021 in South Carolina, Oneida County Assistant District Attorney William Barry said.

Barry said the charges stemmed from a verbal altercation that turned physical, ultimately resulting in Johnson’s death.

“There’s no question she went there to fight, but I don’t think she was prepared in her mind that anyone would end up dead,” said Hunt’s attorney, Oneida County Chief Public Defender Leland McCormac.

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While the fight was set in motion by Hunt, there were many people involved and multiple weapons fired — which was confirmed by different rounds found at the scene — reportedly including by Phillips, McCormac said.

“It’s hard to actually tell who made the fatal shot,” he said.

McCormac said it’s expected Hunt will be subject to next week to five years in state prison and five years of post-release supervision. Phillips is scheduled to be Thursday Thursday, June 23, according to court records.

H. Rose Schneider covers public safety, breaking and trending news for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Rose at

This article originally appeared on Observer-Dispatch: Second defendant in Utica NY homicide pleads to weapons charge

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