Friday, March 4, 2011

Arguments over in Johnson case

Decision on new trial not likely until April


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Final arguments have now been filed in post-conviction-relief proceedings for Sarah Johnson in Johnson's bid for a new trial for the murders of her parents in Bellevue in 2003.

Presiding Judge G. Richard Bevan plans to take the case officially under advisement on Friday, March 11. He then has 30 days to render a decision.

Final documents in the case were filed in February by Johnson attorney Christopher Simms and the Idaho Attorney General's Office. Simms was court-appointed in 2008 to represent Johnson, while the attorney general's office is representing the state of Idaho in its attempt to prevent a new trial for the convicted murderer.

Johnson was convicted by a jury in 2005 of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the couple's home in Bellevue on Sept. 2, 2003. She is currently serving two life prison sentences without the possibility of parole. Now 24, Johnson was 16 at the time of the murders.

The final documents filed by Simms and the attorney general's office summarize and analyze evidence presented at a court trial before Bevan in December 2010. The lengthy documents further cite legal precedence to justify arguments of the litigants.

Simms claims Johnson did not receive a fair trial and was unjustly convicted. He argues that she had ineffective legal counsel during her criminal trial, that police failed to adequately investigate other possible suspects, such as Johnson's former boyfriend Bruno Santos, and that new fingerprint evidence discovered after the trial suggests that Johnson is innocent.

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The attorney general's office has argued that Johnson's claims are without merit.

Johnson's post-conviction-relief proceedings are a civil case, wherein Johnson is identified as the "petitioner" and the state of Idaho as the "respondent."

Bevan is not required to determine Johnson's guilt or innocence, but only to determine if she received a fair trial.

Bevan notes in court documents that it is "noteworthy that Ms. Johnson carries the burden of proof in this case."

Meanwhile, costs continue to accrue for Blaine County, which is paying for Johnson's legal representation.

According to court records, Simms had been paid $91,300 by the county for the Johnson case through February of this year.

The largest costs per month were accrued in November and December 2010, when Simms was preparing for and representing Johnson at the court trial. According to court records, he was paid $10,279 for work in November 2010 and $9,055 for work in December.

Simms is allowed under his contract with Blaine County to charge $100 per hour. He is authorized by court order to spend up to $120,000 on the Johnson case.

According to the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Johnson's trial in 2005 cost Blaine County $1,040,683.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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