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Man Accused in Cedar Rapids Homicide Makes Intial Court Appearance

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A Cedar Rapids man made his initial appearance Tuesday on a first-degree murder charge in the stabbing death of Clifton West, who was found in an alley June 25.

Stephen Jerred Johnson, 39, wearing a smock that defendants wear while on suicide watch, made his appearance by video from the Linn County Jail Tuesday morning. Johnson was charged with first-degree murder, and a judge set his bond at $2 million cash or surety.

Johnson said he would hire his own attorney when the judge asked if he wanted court-appointed counsel. He mostly looked down during the brief hearing.

According to a criminal complaint, Johnson is accused of stabbing West, 34, of Cedar Rapids to death, with premeditation and malice, in the 1500 block alley between Fifth and Sixth avenues SE. Johnson had an altercation with West and used a dangerous weapon to kill him, according to the complaint.

The complaint had no details on the weapon used to stab West or why the men were fighting.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner confirmed inmates wearing a smock are on suicide watch. Inmates, usually charged in capital offenses, who may "not be handling the severity" of their charges are put in the padded smocks for their own protection, so they don't harm themselves.

Several friends or family members of Johnson's were in the courtroom for the appearance, but they declined to comment.

Somer Lekin, the mother of West's children, told KCRG-TV9 Monday that Johnson and West knew each other.

"We are just saddened and mad and hurt and confused," Lekin said. "We don't know why because they have been long-time friends and Cliff really considered him a long-time friend, so it's just a bunch of emotions right now."

According to court records, Johnson's criminal history includes drug charges, burglary, assault causing bodily injury, and most recently a disorderly conduct charge in 2012.

After Johnson received a deferred sentence on the drug charge, he was charged about a year later with the assault involving an apparent revenge incident where he and another man were accused of assaulting a woman in Marion. They threatened her with a knife and gun which led to another incident of shots being fired at a separate residence. At the time, police believed the incidents stemmed from a fight earlier in the evening. Johnson was also charged with first-degree burglary in that incident and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Cedar Rapids Police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said Tuesday after the hearing that the investigation into West's homicide is ongoing. No other details of the homicide are being released at this time, she said.

A preliminary hearing for Johnson is set July 12, if the county attorney doesn't file trial information before that time.

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