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Friday — March 26, 2004


Johnson trial rescheduled

Wood takes over case

Express Staff Writer

Attorneys, court officials and investigators involved in a high profile double murder case in Blaine County are continuing to go through the paces of pre-trial posturing.

In a hearing on Thursday, March 18, 5th District Judge R. Barry Wood agreed to reschedule the trial for alleged murderer Sarah M. Johnson, 17, for sometime in September. The date, which is to be firmed up later, was loosely set for either Sept. 7 or Sept. 27 in order to accommodate attorney and court schedules.

The trial was originally scheduled for Feb. 10 but was rescheduled in January for June 1. Wood rescheduled the case again last week because evidence is still trickling in.

Johnson, who was 16 at the time of her arrest, is accused of shooting her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the family’s Bellevue home during the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2003. She is incarcerated at the Blaine County Jail in lieu of a $2 million bond.

In a motion filed on Monday, March 15, Johnson’s attorney, Public Defender Bob Pangburn, asked for the trial to be rescheduled yet again.

"The reason for this motion is that large amounts of scientific and other evidence have not been provided to the defense and therefore can not be properly reviewed and evaluated in time to file pre-trial motion," Pangburn wrote.

"Specifically, the state has indicated to the defense that somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 more pages of discovery documents will be provided to the defense by the state," Pangburn continued. "Also, the state has not, to date, provided the defense with any copies of audio and videotape recordings made during the state’s investigation of this case."

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said the state is still accumulating scientific evidence. Prosecutors may not have all of the information in hand for another three to four weeks, he said.

Wood, a visiting judge, began presiding over the case on March 10 because 5th District Judge James May is retiring on May 1. According to court clerks, Wood will probably preside over the case through its completion, even when another judge is appointed to the Hailey-based court sometime this spring.

Though he has expressed concerns about jury contamination in Blaine County, Pangburn said at the March 18 proceeding that he does not currently plan to seek a change of venue.

In February, Pangburn filed a motion with the court seeking access to the prosecution’s records on two potential witnesses: Melinda Gonzalez, who shared a cell with Johnson at the Blaine County Jail, and Bruno Santos, whom Johnson was dating at the time of the murders.

In a court proceeding on Feb. 24, Thomas said he had provided Pangburn with 1,100 pages of evidence and that INS officials would provide further information about Santos, allegedly an illegal immigrant who was living in the Wood River Valley.

Further, Blaine County Commissioners have hired Hailey attorney Doug Werth to represent them concerning the expected large price tag the case may carry.

Records regarding case expenses, however, are sealed until the trial is completed.



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