Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Double murder suspect moved to Burley jail

Defense team says solitary confinement is out of line for Johnson

Express Staff Writer

Attorneys for alleged double murderer Sarah M. Johnson reacted quickly this month when they discovered their client had been moved to the Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center in Burley and was being held in solitary confinement.

In a motion filed Oct. 12, Johnson?s public defender, Bob Pangburn, asked that Johnson ?immediately and forthwith? be removed from solitary confinement. The motion also demanded that the state ?desist its unlawful denial of attorney contact? with Johnson.

In a court hearing Wednesday, Oct. 13, 5th District Judge Barry Wood said Johnson must be granted reasonable access to a telephone and to her attorneys, but, as of Monday, Oct. 18, he had not yet issued a written order in response to the defense motions.

Johnson, who was moved to the facility on Oct. 8, was still there Tuesday, Oct. 19. A jail employee who declined to be identified would not elaborate about the conditions under which she is being held.

Unless there is a punishment issue, the treatment of the defendant needs to stop, Wood said, according to court minutes.

According to a supporting affidavit, Pangburn went to the Blaine County Jail, where Johnson has been incarcerated for most of the past year, on Friday, Oct. 8, but discovered that his client was not there.

?I had never been notified in advance that Sarah was going to be moved,? he said. ?I heard about it for the first time when I went to visit her,? he wrote.

Furthermore, investigator Patrick Dunn, who was appointed by the court to work for the defense team, wrote in an affidavit that he was denied access to Johnson on Oct. 11, four days after visiting with her at the Mini-Cassia facility.

He also described the conditions under which she is being held.

?Sarah Marie Johnson is being housed in isolation at the Mini-Cassia jail. The word ?Isolation? is inscribed on the door to her cell,? he wrote.

The cell is about 8 feet by 10 feet. The walls are made from cinder blocks. The floor is concrete. The cell has one window, which is in the door and is covered with cardboard. Unlike typical jail cells, there is no television, radio or telephone. There is a three-tube fluorescent light on the ceiling.

?It is very bright and is on all day and all night. Sarah has no way of knowing what time it is, or whether it is day or night,? Dunn wrote.

Johnson was not allowed to take any books, except her Bible. She was given one magazine.

?She has no paper and nothing to write with and nothing other than the Bible and the one magazine to keep her mind occupied,? Dunn wrote.

During the Wednesday court proceeding, Pangburn said Johnson is being punished by the manner in which she is being held.

But Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said Johnson was relocated to make room for another defendant who was scheduled for a hearing Oct. 12 in Blaine County. The Mini-Cassia jail does not have the facilities to separate Johnson from others. She was separated from other inmates because state law requires that juveniles housed in adult facilities are kept ?out of sight and sound? from adult inmates, the anonymous jail employee said.

In addition to a ruling on Johnson?s jailing, Wood is expected to rule on motions regarding police interviews with the defendant and whether testimony from any of her former Blaine County Jail cellmates?who were over the age of 18?will be admissible during the trial, scheduled to begin Feb. 1.

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