Diabolique Paris Johnson, 34, of Indianapolis was charged Tuesday, March 2, with first-degree felony murder in the Sept. 5 shooting death of 39-year-old Joshua J. Smelser. Smelser, a videographer who had moved to Detroit only six months earlier, was killed in his Detroit home after meeting Johnson through a dating app. Police say Smelser was targeted because he was gay.
In a separate case, Johnson was also charged Tuesday in an armed robbery that took place four days before the murder. Johnson, again, found and targeted the victim through a dating app for gay men. Johnson rendezvoused with the victim at a Red Roof Inn on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn and left with the unidentified victim’s personal belongings.
Johnson’s arrest and extradition followed a three-month investigation. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy brought the charges with the assistance of the Fair Michigan Justice Project, a program that assists Michigan law enforcement and prosecutors in solving serious crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also assisted in the case through the Hate Crime Unit her office created in 2019 to investigate and prosecute hate crimes that include victims targeted based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I’m proud to stand with Prosecutor Worthy and the Fair Michigan Justice Project to announce these charges today,” Nessel said in a statement. “It’s my hope that this case marks the beginning of a long partnership focused on providing justice to some of our most vulnerable communities.”
Johnson’s case will be prosecuted by Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor LaDonna Logan.
“It is troubling that the perpetrator of these vicious acts apparently used online dating apps to locate and target his victims,” Fair Michigan president Alanna Maguire said. “Michigan’s LGBTQ communities know that the Fair Michigan Justice Project, along with Michigan’s county prosecutors and law enforcement officials, stand ready to aggressively investigate and prosecute these brutal crimes.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, such crimes have been happening more frequently. Equality Michigan Lead Victim Advocate Genny Maze said that ongoing bar and restaurant closures have led to an increase in dating app hookups that have provide perpetrators with an avenue to target victims.
“The LGBTQ community has begun to see a rise in hate crimes and violence towards people using dating sites both in Metro Detroit as well as across the State,” she said. “Predators are using these sites to lure in LGBTQ individuals with the intent to attack, rob and kill them. It is imperative that we, both individuals and LGBTQ organizations, make the community aware of this increase in violence and educate everyone on strategies to keep the community safe.”
Maze said that multiple security measures should be taken for such meetings and offered a few must-do safety tips:
Meet in a Public Place
No matter the time of day or night, people who arrange to meet via dating and hookup apps should always meet first in a public space. This allows participants to get a feel for who their partners are going to be and a chance to get away if they feel unsafe.
Always Tell Someone
While hookups are, by nature private, finding a trustworthy friend to tell when meeting someone is vital. It’s important to share with that friend as much information as possible about the person or people one will be meeting. Maze also suggests the app Life360, which allows family and friends to track one’s location through cell phone GPS coordinates.
Trust Your Instinct
Maze also encourages people using hookup and dating apps to listen to their instincts and leave a situation if it doesn’t feel safe or call a friend to pick them up.
A probable cause conference is scheduled for Johnson for March 12. A preliminary exam will follow on March 19. He is also expected to be arraigned in 36th District Court in Detroit this week.