Man convicted in 2017 strangling of art student in West Philly

Kierra Johnson
Kierra Johnson family

Images of Kierra Johnson flashed on a screen behind a podium where the prosecutors who helped convict the 21-year-old art student’s killer discussed her case.

“Kierra fought for her life as she was underneath that bridge,” Assistant District Attorney Cydney Pope said. “Fought for her life so hard that the DNA from her killer was still under her fingernails 12 hours after she died, after being submerged in Cobbs Creek.”

David Grier, 26, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday to life-in-prison without parole, the mandatory penalty for first degree murder. A jury found him guilty Feb. 7 of strangling Johnson in November 2017.

Prosecutors allege that Grier attacked and killed Johnson near Spruce Street and the Cobbs Creek Parkway in West Philadelphia because she refused to have a romantic relationship with him.

In addition to the DNA under Johnson’s fingernails, detectives recovered surveillance video showing her walking from 69th Street Transportation Center and encountering Grier, Pope said.

Grier, who was arrested five months after Johnson’s death, knew her from high school and represented himself during the weeklong trial, KYW Newsradio reported.

Johnson, known as “Ki,” developed an interest in the environment after an internship with the National Park Service and attended the University of the Arts and Hussian College, according to the Philadelphia Obituary Project.

State Rep. Joanna McClinton speaks Monday, Feb. 14, at District Attorney Larry Krasner’s weekly news conference.Jack Tomczuk

“She was just a beautiful spirit,” her father, Rusten Johnson, told reporters Monday. “She was very kind. Kind of quiet. Very peace-loving. She was really interested in art and music and animals and nature.”

Her killing and the case against Grier was featured during District Attorney Larry Krasner’s weekly news briefing, held Monday at the Community of Compassion CDC building near where Johnson’s body was found.

Pope and Krasner noted that Johnson’s case did not receive much press coverage.

“The killing of a Black college student didn’t register with media the same way the killing of a white college student registered with media in Philadelphia,” Krasner said.

Assistant District Attorney Cydney Pope speaks Monday, Feb. 14, about the case against David Grier, who was convicted of first-degree murder last week.Jack Tomczuk

State Rep. Joanna McClinton, who serves as the House Democratic Leader and represents parts of West and Southwest Philadelphia and Delaware County, said more attention needs to be focused on violence against Black women.

“Every single time you hear about a shooting, we seem to be able to dismiss it because we think it’s some boy, it’s some guy,” said McClinton, who spoke at the news conference. “He deserved it. He was into something wrong.”

“But it’s Black women who are pregnant, trying to take out gifts from their baby shower,” she added. “It’s women like Kierra who are working hard for a better future. It’s just taken from them. And it absolutely has to stop.”