Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No new trial for Sarah Johnson

Judge dismisses claims that convicted murderer was unjustly tried

Express Staff Writer

Sarah Johnson

An Idaho 5th District Court judge has ruled that convicted murderer Sarah Johnson is not entitled to a new trial for the killing of her parents in 2003.

In a 94-page decision issued Monday, Judge G. Richard Bevan denied Johnson's claims that she was unjustly tried and convicted because of ineffective legal counsel during her trial in 2005. Bevan also ruled that new fingerprint evidence that surfaced after her conviction was not sufficient to order a new trial.

"All her claims were denied in total, so it looks like the state and justice prevailed," said Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas, who prosecuted the Johnson case in 2005. "I could not be more pleased to know that justice has prevailed and that the hard work performed during the investigation and at trial has been vindicated."

Johnson is serving two life prison sentences without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murders of her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the couple's home in Bellevue on Sept. 2, 2003. Johnson, now 24, was 16 at the time.

Johnson's previous attempts for exoneration or a new trial were rebuffed by the Idaho Supreme Court in June 2008. Later that year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Bevan's ruling is the culmination of post-conviction relief proceedings initiated by Johnson in 2006 and put on hold until 2008 when her conviction appeal process was exhausted.

Johnson alleged in her post-conviction-relief filings that she deserved a new trial because of numerous errors committed by her trial attorneys, Bob Pangburn and Mark Rader.

Hailey attorney Christopher Simms, who was appointed by the court to represent Johnson in the post-conviction-relief proceedings, further claimed that new fingerprint evidence found on the murder weapon after Johnson's conviction suggested someone else was the killer.

Bevan heard testimony and received exhibits during a four-day court hearing held in Twin Falls in December. Simms and attorneys for the Idaho Attorney General's Office, which represented the state of Idaho in post-conviction-relief proceedings, submitted final written arguments to Bevan in February.

Bevan officially took the case under advisement on March 16.

Simms said Tuesday afternoon that he hadn't yet had time to review Bevan's ruling but disagreed with the findings nonetheless.

"I respectfully disagree with the court's decision, and there will be an appeal," Simms said.

Terry Smith:

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