An attorney for Sarah M. Johnson claims that recently discovered evidence could clear his client in the 2003 murders of her parents.
Hailey attorney Christopher Simms wrote in a document filed in Blaine County 5th District Court on Feb. 19 that previously unidentified fingerprints on the murder weapon have now been identified by the Idaho State Police Bureau of Criminal Identification.
"This newly discovered evidence goes directly to the heart of the case," Simms wrote in a motion requesting that the court consider the new evidence. He suggested that the new evidence should entitle Johnson to a new trial.
Simms' claim of new evidence is supported by an affidavit filed with the court by Robert J. Kerchusky, a fingerprint expert who is a consultant with the ISP crime laboratory. Kerchusky wrote in the affidavit that the previously unidentified fingerprints "found on the tools of murder were matched to an individual not investigated as part of the case."
Johnson, now 22, was 16 when she was charged with the murders of her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the couple's home in Bellevue in September 2003. She was convicted by a jury in 2005 of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to two life terms without the possibility of parole. She is currently an inmate at the Pocatello Women's Correctional Center.
In another recent development, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review Johnson's case. A petition was filed with the high court on Johnson's behalf last September by Sara B. Thomas, an attorney with the State Appellate Public Defender's Office in Boise. The petition followed a decision last June by the Idaho Supreme Court to uphold Johnson's murder convictions.
Simms wrote in his motion that the newly identified fingerprints were found on the murder weapon, a .264 Winchester Magnum hunting rifle.
The issue of unidentified fingerprints on the gun was raised during Johnson's trial. Evidence showed that the gun belonged to a man who was renting a guesthouse from the Johnsons, and prosecutors alleged that Sarah Johnson obtained the weapon there.
Kerchusky stated in his affidavit that he is a former FBI fingerprint technician and a former supervisor with the ISP Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He wrote that he learned of the new fingerprint identification on Feb. 13 in a telephone conversation with Maria Eguren, a fingerprint technician with the ISP laboratory.
Kerchusky's affidavit identifies the person to whom the prints are matched. The man lives in Bellevue, but the Idaho Mountain Express is not revealing his name because he has not been charged with a crime and investigators say he had nothing to do with the murders.
Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas released a written statement to the Idaho Mountain Express on Thursday afternoon.
"The presumptive identification of the fingerprint on the scope reveals that the print belongs to a former roommate of the person who was renting the Johnson guesthouse at the time of the murders," Thomas wrote. "Follow-up interviews by detectives indicate the person whose print was identified on the scope had moved the firearms into the guesthouse and in fact had previously shot the rifle with the attached scope at a local shooting range prior to the murders.
"Investigators are confident that there is no connection between this person and Sarah Johnson. The identification of this print does nothing to lesson the guilt of Sarah Johnson, nor does it undermine the original investigation.
"I am absolutely confident in our original charging decisions and the jury's verdict of guilty in which Sarah Johnson was charged with and convicted of the murders. I look forward to seeing this issue resolved during the post conviction litigation process."
Simms was appointed by the court to represent Johnson in a post-conviction relief petition in which Johnson seeks a new trial. Johnson alleges in the petition that she had ineffective legal counsel during her trial and that presiding Judge Barry Wood was biased against her.
Terry Smith: email@example.com