Friday, May 12, 2006

Johnson siblings battle over insurance benefits

Ongoing court fight pits Sarah against brother Matthew

Express Staff Writer

Matthew Johnson testified in Boise during the trial of his sister Sarah, who was convicted of murdering their parents Alan and Diane Johnson in their Bellevue home in September 2003. Photo by Willy Cook

More than a year after Sarah M. Johnson's murder conviction for killing her parents, Johnson and her brother Matthew are still battling in court over life insurance benefits for the slain father and mother.

At stake is more than $275,000, Sarah Johnson's potential share of the life insurance benefits for Alan and Diane Johnson, who were shot to death in their Bellevue home on Sept. 2, 2003. Matthew Johnson claims he's entitled to the money because Sarah Johnson is disqualified under Idaho's Slayer Act.

Matthew Johnson received his half of the $550,000 life insurance benefits after the Blaine County Sheriff's Office determined early in the investigation that he had no part in the murders.

The case, nearly as old as the murders themselves, shows no sign of ending soon. Blaine County District Judge Robert Elgee ruled last week that he won't make a decision on the issue until after Sarah Johnson's murder conviction case is completely settled.

According to court proceeding minutes from a hearing on May 2, Elgee ruled that legal questions remain as to whether Sarah Johnson was "rightfully convicted."

She was convicted in March 2005 of two counts of first-degree murder and is currently serving two life sentences in the Pocatello Women's Correction Center.

Her conviction appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court was dismissed April 6 because it was filed after the legally mandated deadline. Sarah Johnson filed court documents on April 19 alleging she had ineffective legal counsel during and after her trial and requesting that her appeal rights be reinstated or that her conviction be dismissed.

Blaine County Public Defender Stephen D. Thompson was appointed to represent Sarah Johnson on her Petition for Post-Conviction Relief. No hearing dates have yet been scheduled.

The civil case between Sarah and Matthew Johnson is actually two cases, since separate life insurance policies were in effect for the two parents. Because the cases are nearly identical, they have been handled in court concurrently and as a single issue.

Beneficial Life Insurance Co., based in Utah, initiated court action in November 2003 for a determination as to whether Sarah Johnson, who by then had been arrested and charged for the murders, was eligible for half the benefit. Beneficial Life had issued a $450,000 life insurance policy for Alan Johnson.

Subsequent court orders put a stay on determining the issue until after Sarah Johnson's trial. Mony Life Insurance Co. of America, of Arizona, filed nearly identical court papers in June 2005 following Sarah Johnson's conviction. Mony Life had issued a $100,000 life insurance policy for Diane Johnson.

Last September, Matthew Johnson won a judgment for his sister's half of the benefit. However, Sarah Johnson won the next round when in November Elgee ruled "to stay execution of judgment" until Sarah Johnson's "criminal case has been finally resolved."

The $275,000 in question is being held by the court. The money has been invested in certificates of deposit where it is earning interest.

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