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A grand jury brings 1st degree murder charges in deaths of an LGBTQ activist and a former FAMU cheerleader

 Jorge Diaz Johnston in a white sweater
Jorge Diaz Johnston

The roommate of a prominent LGBTQ activist has been indicted for first-degree murder and a grand jury has upped charges against a different man accused of killing a former FAMU cheerleader and graduate student. Both cases are some of the most high-profile slayings in Tallahassee this year.

The grand jury charged Steven Yinger with first-degree murder in the killing of Jorge Diaz Johnston. Diaz-Johnston comes from a prominent South Florida family. He and his husband Don were one of six LGBTQ couples who helped lead a legal fight that paved the way for gay marriage in Florida. Diaz-Johnston was reported missing the same day his body was found in a Jackson County landfill.

“It was shocking, it was devastating news,” said Stratton Pollitzer, Deputy Director for the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida in a January interview with WFSU.

“The violence of it just amplifies the grief that we’re feeling.”

Jorge and Don Johnston were separated at the time of Jorge’s death and he had been living with a roommate -- Steven Yinger. Yinger had recently been released from prison and has a history of theft and burglary. According to the grand jury's findings, Diaz Johnston died of strangulation or choking.

Don Johnston came from a prominent North Florida family, and Diaz-Johnston’s brother is Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz. His nephew is Manny Diaz, the former Miami Hurricanes head football coach.

Diaz-Johnston was last seen on January 3rd near his workplace on Remington Green Circle. A missing person’s report was not filed until January 8th, the day his body was found. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, the family first assumed Diaz-Johnston may have gone to a rehab facility due to his battle with alcohol addiction until his employer called to say Diaz-Johnston had not been seen at work for several days.

Yinger was initially arrested on January 12th on counts of theft, trespassing, resisting arrest, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Additional charges now include first-degree murder, theft, and evidence tampering.

“Right now, the case is going to be assigned to John Fuchs in front of Judge Carroll," said state attorney Jack Campbell.

"We’re going to work really hard to explain to the community and Mr. Diaz’s family what happened to him to try to achieve justice as best we can in a tragedy like this.”

Only a grand jury can bring first-degree murder charges, which carry a sentence of life in prison with no parole, or even the death penalty under certain circumstances.

The grand jury also upped charges against 27-year-old Khalil Ogilve who is accused of killing Florida A&M University graduate student and former cheerleader, MaKayla Bryant.

Bryant was killed in January in what the Tallahassee Police Department described as an illegal drug sale.

“She was a beautiful grad student, and very senselessly dead," said Campbell.

According to the probable cause affidavit released shortly after the shooting, Ogilve tried to rob Bryant and her girlfriend. He approached the passenger side of the car where Bryant was sitting and the two fought over the gun and it went off, hitting her. The girlfriend drove Bryant to the hospital where she died. The girlfriend, Precious Charlton was arrested in January and charged with third-degree murder and possession of drugs with intent to sell.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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