Friday, December 28, 2012

Lawyers trying to free convicted murderer

Some people still think Sarah Johnson is innocent

Express Staff Writer

Sarah Johnson

Though Sarah Johnson was convicted more than seven years ago and sentenced to two life prison terms for the murders of her parents in 2003, some people continue to believe that the former Bellevue resident is innocent.

Johnson, now 25 and an inmate at the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center, was 16 when Allen and Diane Johnson were shot to death in their Bellevue home. According to her sentence, Johnson will never be eligible for parole.

In 2011, Boise attorneys Dennis Benjamin and Deborah Whipple, working pro bono, took up Johnson’s cause, seeking to have her exonerated. They are supported by the Idaho Innocence Project, headed by nationally renowned DNA expert Greg Hampikian, and by fingerprint expert Robert Kerchusky, a former FBI agent who has claimed that fingerprint evidence found in connection with the Johnson case points to another killer.

In April 2012, Benjamin and Whipple filed court documents seeking to have 5th District Court Judge G. Richard Bevan reopen a post-conviction-relief case, wherein Johnson was seeking a new trial. Following a court hearing in December 2010, Bevan had declined in 2011 to grant Johnson a new trial.

In their filings, Benjamin and Whipple argued that some DNA evidence was not tested in the original criminal case, that new analytical methods can now be used to identify other possible suspects and that Johnson has had “ineffective legal counsel” throughout the nine years of court proceedings involving her.

Bevan has yet to order the post-conviction case reopened, but in June determined that Benjamin and Whipple’s arguments deserved further attention and ruled that new legal counsel be appointed for her at Blaine County’s expense.

In July, the case was assigned to the Roark Law Firm in Hailey, whose attorneys Keith Roark and Douglas Nelson have extensive experience in murder cases.

The Roark Law Firm has since filed a motion requesting that Bevan order new DNA tests. The judge has not yet ruled on that motion.

Terry Smith:

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