Friday, June 2, 2006

Sarah Johnson seeks appeal

Hearing to determine if murder conviction can be appealed

Express Staff Writer

Sarah M. Johnson

A court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Hailey to determine if Sarah M. Johnson can once more appeal her convictions for the murders of her parents in Bellevue in 2003.

The Idaho Supreme Court dismissed her original appeal in April, ruling that it was filed beyond the legally mandated deadline. Johnson filed court papers later in April seeking reinstatement of her appeal rights on the grounds that her attorneys screwed up in filing the appeal too late.

Johnson, 19, was found guilty in March 2005 of killing her parents Alan and Diane Johnson in the couple's Bellevue home. She is currently serving two life sentences in the Pocatello Women's Correction Center.

The hearing is Tuesday scheduled for 2 p.m. before 5th District Court Judge R. Barry Wood, the same judge who presided over Johnson's trial and sentenced her to two life terms.

It was unclear Thursday whether or not Johnson would be brought to Hailey to attend the hearing.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said he didn't think Johnson would be attending but he wouldn't know for sure until Monday.

Johnson is represented by Blaine County Public Defender Stephen D. Thompson, who could not be reached for comment.

Wood previously ordered that the Idaho Attorney General's Office serve as special prosecutor to represent the state in Johnson's appeal litigation. Court records show that the case is being handled by Justin D. Whatcott, a former Blaine County deputy prosecutor and now a deputy with the Attorney General's Office. Whatcott helped prosecute Johnson when he was employed by Blaine County.

In a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief filed by Johnson in April, she alleged "ineffective legal counsel" by her attorneys Bob Pangburn and Mark Rader led to dismissal of her Supreme Court appeal and contributed to her murder convictions. She has further alleged that Wood was biased as trial judge and her attorneys should have tried to have another judge appointed to hear the case.

Court documents filed by Whatcott have denied Johnson's allegations.

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