Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Sarah Johnson appeals murder convictions

Were due process and sentences excessive?

Express Staff Writer

Sarah M. Johnson

Sarah M. Johnson has appealed her murder convictions to the Idaho Supreme Court.

Convicted in 2005 for the shooting deaths of her parents, Johnson alleges in her Notice of Appeal to the high court that she was denied due process of law in trial proceedings and that the sentences imposed were excessive.

Johnson, 19, is serving two life sentences at the Pocatello Women's Correction Facility. She was convicted in March 2005 on two counts of first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the couple's home in Bellevue on Sept. 2, 2003.

Specifically, the appeal, filed on July 28, asks the high court to decide if 5th District Judge Barry M. Wood violated Johnson's "right to due process" in instructions he gave to the jury prior to its verdict. The appeal alleges that Wood told the jury Johnson could be found guilty of first-degree murder for "aiding and abetting despite the fact that elements of this charge were never included in the charging document."

The appeal further asks the high court to decide if Wood abused his discretion when he imposed "excessive sentences upon Ms. Johnson."

Additional claims will likely be raised later, said Sara B. Thomas, an attorney with the State Appellate Public Defender's Office, which is representing Johnson on her appeal.

Johnson has alleged in other court documents that she had ineffective legal counsel during her trial and that Wood was biased as trial judge and that her attorneys should have tried to have another judge appointed to the case.

The appeal was the second filed with the Supreme Court on Johnson's behalf for the murder convictions. The first appeal, filed last year, was dismissed by the high court in April because it was filed after the legally mandated deadline.

Johnson regained her appeal rights in July when Wood ruled she was not at fault for the late filing. Rather, Wood ruled, the blame lay with Johnson's trial attorneys, Bob Pangburn and Mark Rader.

Wood also appointed the State Appellate Public Defender's Office to represent Johnson on the appeal rather that Blaine County public defender Stephen Thompson.

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