Friday, July 13, 2012

County prepares for Sarah Johnson expenses

50K set aside in preliminary fiscal 2013 budget

Express Staff Writer

Boise attorney Dennis Benjamin provided the Idaho Mountain Express on Thursday with this new photograph of Sarah Johnson. Now 25, Johnson remains an inmate at the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center. Courtesy photo

In anticipation of continuing costs for Sarah Johnson's legal counsel, Blaine County has set aside $50,000 for the convicted murderer in a preliminary budget for fiscal 2013.

"That may or may not be enough for that," County Clerk JoLynn Drage said at a Blaine County Commissioners budget workshop on Monday. "You know it's going to be there, but you don't know to what magnitude."

"This is reasonable for FY13," said County Administrator Derek Voss. "It's likely not the last time you will pay a bill on that. It's not all coming at you tomorrow or in 2013. It's about planning and the long term."

County officials are evidently reacting to a recent order from 5th District Judge G. Richard Bevan, who ruled on June 6 that Johnson is entitled to county-funded legal counsel to represent her on new post-conviction claims raised by Boise attorney Dennis Benjamin.

In recent court filings, Benjamin is claiming that new DNA analytical techniques could exonerate Johnson and identify who really killed Johnson's parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the couple's home in Bellevue in 2003.

Sarah Johnson, convicted by a jury in 2005 of two counts of first-degree murder, is currently serving two life prison sentences without the possibility of parole. Now 25, Johnson was 16 at the time of the murders.

Bevan has not yet appointed new counsel for Johnson, but Benjamin and co-counsel Deborah Whipple continue for the time being to represent Johnson pro bono.

The judge has not yet even agreed to reopen Johnson's post-conviction relief case, which many thought was settled in 2011, when he ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to grant Johnson a new trial.

Blaine County has already spent about $1.1 million on Johnson-related legal costs during the past nine years.

Terry Smith:

Express staff writer Kate Wutz contributed to this report.

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