Friday, February 11, 2005

Suspect's shoulder bruised after parents' murders

Investigators point out discrepancy in Johnson's story

Express Staff Writer

Sarah M. Johnson

An Idaho State Police detective testified Thursday that he saw and photographed three linear bruises on Sarah M. Johnson's left shoulder on the day in September 2002 when the teenager's parents were found shot to death in their Bellevue home.

But, as with the majority of evidence submitted in Johnson's double murder trial so far, prosecutors have not yet called anyone to the stand to analyze whether there was any correlation between the bruises and the firing of a weapon.

"Located on her left shoulder, there were several linear bruises that were approximately between 2 and 4 inches long," said Idaho State Police Detective Scott Ward in testimony he gave Thursday morning.

Predicted to last six to eight weeks, the trial opened Monday in 4th District Court at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise. The trial was moved to Boise early in January when 5th District Judge Barry Woo0d ruled it was impractical to attempt to panel a non-biased jury in Blaine County where the crime was committed. Sarah Johnson is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her parents, Alan Johnson, 46, and Diane Johnson, 52. If convicted, she faces life in prison.

Blaine County prosecutors continued this week to present the chain of evidence that led to Johnson's eventual arrest for the murders of her parents. They have yet to connect many of the dots into a clear picture of what they believe occurred in the early-morning hours of Sept. 2, 2003.

What's more, Johnson's continued weeping in the courtroom rose to a crescendo Wednesday while prosecuting attorneys showed particularly graphic photos of the murder scene, where Alan Johnson and Diane Johnson were discovered shot to death. That is when Wood told the 18-year-old he would take action if the crying continued.

"I personally have found it hard to hear and distracting; the crying and the moaning and the blowing of the nose," the judge said. "The only one making the noise is the defendant. I understand this is an emotional issue...but we need to conduct this trial in a fashion that is not distracting."

Johnson's attorney, Bob Pangburn, stressed that she was not acting intentionally, and Johnson agreed to be removed from the courtroom during presentation of graphic evidence. She returned about a half-hour later.

So far in the trial, prosecutors have submitted more than 100 exhibits into evidence, and many more are to come, said Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas.

In fact, Idaho State Police Detective Stu Robinson said the crime scene at the Johnson home in Bellevue had more complex evidence than any case that he has worked.

"I've never worked a case where we've had the enormous amount, the extreme amount of evidence sent off for testing," he said, adding that he would not be surprised to discover that 30 to 40 items had been sent for DNA testing.

Also of particular note, prosecutors on Wednesday managed to punch a gaping hole in part of Johnson's story about the events of the morning of Sept. 2. Blaine County Sheriff's Office Detective Steve Harkins, who was among the first police officers to interview Johnson, testified that she apparently lied about whether her bedroom door was open at the time of the shootings.

Whether the door was open or closed is important because if Johnson's door was closed, her story stating that she heard gunshots, called out to her parents and ran into the street is more believable.

Harkins' story, which he obtained from Johnson, went like this:

After hearing the first gunshot, Johnson woke up and thought she was dreaming. She eventually walked through her bathroom and into an adjoining bedroom and then returned down a hallway to her parents' bedroom door.

"During that conversation, I specifically asked her if her bedroom door was closed, and she said it was and walked around," Harkins said.

But photographs submitted as evidence earlier in the trial clearly showed that blood or body tissue was stuck to the west wall of Sarah Johnson's bedroom. That wall was directly across a hallway from her parents' bedroom, where the murders took place, and within a direct line of sight of Diane Johnson's body.

Harkins' testimony spanned two interviews he had with Johnson, as well as follow-up investigations that included interviews with hundreds of people. He testified for a couple of hours on Wednesday, and he was cross-examined for several hours on Thursday morning.

Prosecutors have theorized that Sarah Johnson's motive for committing the murders appears to have been one of retribution for getting involved with her relationship with a Mexican national by the name of Bruno Santos Dominguez. Prosecutors said they believed Alan and Diane Johnson intended to speak with the Bellevue Marshall later in the day on Sept. 2 to consider pressing rape charges against Santos Dominguez.

Thomas said during his opening statement that Sarah Johnson was "livid" when she learned this. And Santos Dominguez was the first person Sarah Johnson asked to see following the murders, several witnesses indicated.

She would not see him, however, until later that day at the hospital, where Idaho State Police Detective Salena Mink examined her.

"She saw Bruno at the hospital," Mink said. "She told him that she loved him and said that she was sorry."

Did she say what she was sorry for? Thomas asked.

"No," Mink said.

Members of the jury were scheduled to travel today to Bellevue to tour the Johnson home.

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