Friday, December 31, 2010

Johnson case resurfaces in 2010

Santos, Santistevan, Stevens and Mayer also make the headlines


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Blasts from the past seemed to dominate the Blaine County crime scene in 2010, as cases of violence once thought resolved found their way back into the news and the consciousness of the community.

First and foremost was convicted murderer Sarah Johnson's bid for a new trial. Some interesting points were raised by her attorney this year, suggesting she might be innocent, but prosecutors and police reaffirmed their belief that Johnson, and only Johnson, was responsible for the deaths of her parents in 2003.

Johnson's former boyfriend, Bruno Santos, also found his way into the spotlight, having been arrested and charged with three felony drug offenses.

David Santistevan, convicted of shooting two teenagers in Bellevue in 2004, also made a run—unsuccessfully—for acquittal or a new trial, and a vehicular manslaughter case from 2009 was finally resolved.

There was a new case that captured the public's attention, a somewhat ironic situation in which an anti-wolf activist and Idaho elk advocate was charged with illegally killing a trophy bull elk.

Sarah Johnson

Johnson, now 23, stands to spend the rest of her life in prison unless something happens to change her sentence for the shooting deaths of Alan and Diane Johnson at the couple's home in Bellevue in 2003. Johnson, only 16 at the time of the killings, has always maintained her innocence and now claims she was unjustly convicted.

Both the Idaho Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have rebuffed her appeals and the case now finds itself in post-conviction relief proceedings. A hearing was held in early December in the Twin Falls courtroom of 5th District Judge G. Richard Bevan, who heard four days of testimony about Johnson's trial in 2005 and about new fingerprint evidence on the murder weapon that only came to light after her conviction.

Bevan doesn't have to determine Johnson's guilt or innocence, but only if she was given a fair trial or if the new evidence is significant enough for her to be tried again. Bevan is not likely to render a decision until April.

Bruno Santos

Santos, who was originally a suspect in the Johnson murders, is now facing the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence if convicted of felony drug-dealing charges pending against him in Blaine County. He was never charged with involvement in the murders because investigators were never able to find solid evidence linking him to the crimes.

Santos, 26, is now charged with trafficking in methamphetamine for allegedly selling a half-pound of the drug to an Idaho State Police undercover detective in Hailey last May. He is charged with delivery of cocaine and trafficking in cocaine for allegedly selling the drug on two occasions to a Blaine County Narcotics Enforcement Team confidential informant in Ketchum last April. A native of Mexico, Santos is also accused of being in the United States illegally.

Since there are two cases pending against Santos, two trials are scheduled. The first is set to start Jan. 11 and the second Jan. 26.

All three crimes are punishable in Idaho by up to life in prison.

David Santistevan

Santistevan, 53, thinks he got a raw deal on a sentence of 35 years in prison for shooting and wounding two teenagers in Bellevue in 2004. He admits to the shootings, but claims he did it in self-defense.

His post-conviction relief case, wherein Santistevan claimed he didn't get a fair trial, came before Blaine County 5th District Judge Robert J. Elgee earlier year, and in May, Elgee ruled against Santistevan's bid for a new trial or acquittal.

Santistevan remains an Idaho state penitentiary inmate. He is not eligible for parole until March 30, 2026.

Cody Stevens

Cody Stevens, a 29-year-old Richfield man, served a nine-month sentence in 2010 in the Blaine County jail for causing a traffic accident that led to the death of a well-known 53-year-old Hailey woman on March 10, 2009.

Stevens was originally charged with felony vehicular manslaughter in the death in Hailey of Bertilia Lyn Redfern, but pleaded guilty instead to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced in February.

Prosecutors were unable to show that Stevens was under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the day of the accident, one of four that he was involved in that day.

Friends and family of Stevens maintained that he was still suffering from a head injury received earlier from a motorcycle accident, but prosecutors maintained he shouldn't have been driving even if that was the case.

Tony Mayer

Tony Mayer, a 59-year-old Twin Falls man and the founder of the anti-wolf website www.SaveElk.com, found himself charged with a felony in September for allegedly illegally killing a trophy bull elk in the Alturas Lake area of Blaine County in October 2009.

He has not been proven guilty, but has nonetheless been criticized by hunters and pro-wolf advocates alike. His trial is scheduled for April 12 in Blaine County 5th District Court.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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