Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Johnson seeks new appeal to conviction

Claims ineffective legal counsel contributed to guilty verdicts

Express Staff Writer

Sarah M. Johnson, convicted in 2005 for killing her parents in their Bellevue home, has filed court papers that allege mistakes by her attorneys contributed to guilty verdicts against her and led to dismissal of her conviction appeal by the Idaho Supreme Court.

"But for trial counsel's ineffectiveness, there is a reasonable probability that petitioner would not have been convicted," Johnson claims in a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief filed in Blaine County 5th District Court.

Johnson's claim is supported by an affidavit from attorney Mark Rader, who acknowledged that numerous mistakes were made. Rader, an Ontario, Ore., attorney who is licensed to practice in Idaho, defended Johnson at her trial along with Boise attorney Bob Pangburn.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas characterized Johnson's claim as a "standard defense ploy."

"I think this idea that her counsel is now proposing, that they were ineffective, is simply a strategy to win her a new trial," Thomas said. "Sarah Johnson was convicted on the overwhelming amount of evidence against her."

Johnson, 19, was found guilty in March 2005 of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, in the couple's Bellevue home in 2003. She is currently serving two life sentences in the Pocatello Women's Correction Center.

Johnson's petition cites 13 instances of ineffective legal counsel. Most notable is her conviction appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, which was filed after the legally proscribed deadline.

She alleges her attorneys "evidenced a complete ignorance of the relevant law" in filing the appeal too late.

The state high court dismissed Johnson's appeal earlier this month, ruling it "was not timely filed."

Johnson also claims her defense team was not adequately prepared for the trial, failed to recognize prosecution strategy, did not effectively cross-examine police and other prosecution witnesses, failed to put an important defense witness on the stand and failed to challenge jury instructions.

Neither Rader nor Pangburn could be reached for comment this week.

Johnson's petition requests that the court reinstate her appeal rights or, alternatively, dismiss her conviction.

Blaine County Public Defender Stephen D. Thompson has been appointed to represent Johnson. No hearing date has been set.

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