Friday, September 25, 2009

New judge assigned to Johnson case

Bevan takes over from retiring Judge Wood

Express Staff Writer

Judge G. Richard Bevan

After holding on tightly to the Sarah Johnson post-conviction relief case, retiring 5th District Court Judge Barry Wood has finally relinquished the matter.

Earlier this month, Wood, who is also the chief judge for the district, assigned the case to Judge Richard Bevan, who normally presides in Twin Falls County.

The chief judge position, referred to as the administrative district judge, will also pass to Bevan when Wood retires on Jan. 1.

Wood, whose official assignment is in Gooding County, has frequently been the presiding judge for cases in Blaine County because of a rash of judge disqualifications filed by the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office in late 2008 and early 2009 against Judge Robert Elgee.

Wood transferred nearly all his Blaine County cases to Judge John Butler, who normally presides in Jerome County, when he announced his pending retirement in June.

However, Wood retained the Johnson case, wherein Johnson is seeking a new trial following her murder convictions in 2005 for killing her parents in Bellevue in 2003. Wood was also the presiding judge in Johnson's jury trial. Following the trial, Wood sentenced Johnson to two life prison terms without the possibility of parole.

In April, Wood declined to disqualify himself from the Johnson post-conviction case on a motion filed by Johnson's attorney, Christopher Simms, who alleged that Wood was biased against his client. Wood ruled that Simms had failed to prove bias.

District Trial Court Administrator Linda Wright said Wednesday that Wood is on medical leave.

"He'll be fine, but that's why he did it now instead of later," said Wright, referring to the Johnson case.

Terry Smith:

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