Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Judge admits jailhouse talk for Johnson trial

Express Staff Writer

Alleged double murderer Sarah M. Johnson?s defense took a blow last week when 5th District Judge Barry Wood ruled that jailhouse banter between Johnson and any of her former cellmates would not be suppressed and may be offered at her Feb. 1 trial.

Johnson, 17, is accused of murdering her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson of Bellevue, in September 2003.

In a ruling handed down on Friday, Wood also ruled that Johnson had been illegally incarcerated in Blaine County when she was housed with other inmates. That was the basis for the defense motion to suppress comments from Johnson to any of her former cellmates.

?In the current matter, this court acknowledges that a juvenile charged as an adult should not be housed with adults, and the defendant was improperly housed with adults,? Wood wrote. ?However, this court holds that the remedy is not exclusion of the alleged incriminating statements.?

Wood pointed out that one former inmate in particular might be able to testify against Johnson in trial.

?During the course of her incarceration in Blaine County, the defendant allegedly made incriminating statements to (convicted drug trafficker) Malinda Gonzales, an adult female inmate,? Wood wrote.

On Nov. 15, 2003, Gonzales met with a pre-sentence investigator at the Idaho Department of Corrections.

?At that pre-sentence interview, Gonzales disclosed to (the investigator) several statements Johnson allegedly made to her while the two were incarcerated together,? Wood wrote. ?There is no evidence that any law enforcement officer had ever spoken with Gonzales regarding the defendant prior to Gonzales disclosing these statements to the Department of Corrections official.?

Wood wrote that it is undisputed that the defendant has been housed in the same cell with adult female inmates. The defense team asserted, however, that the housing was illegal and therefore any statements Johnson may have made to the adult inmates should be suppressed.

Wood disagreed.

Citing a Missouri case in which a 15-year-old boy was convicted for murdering a family of four after another inmate testified that the boy had confessed, Wood ruled that the proper remedy to Johnson?s illegal jailing is not the ?exclusion of the alleged incriminating statements.?

?The remedy would be an attack on the conditions of the defendant?s confinement, or more specifically, an order directing the sheriff to house Johnson separately from either other juveniles who are not charged as adults or from other adults,? Wood wrote. ?If such confinement is not available in the Blaine County Jail, then it must necessarily occur elsewhere.?

Johnson, in fact, was moved to a jail in Burley on Oct. 8, following hearings on the defense motion. She was held for a few days in solitary confinement, which her attorneys contended constituted retribution for the hearings on the previous two days.

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