Jesse Johnson was sentenced to death by the State of Oregon for the murder of a woman. According to court documents Jesse Johnson would stab to death Harriet “Sunny” Thompson before robbing her home. Jesse Johnson was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death.
Jesse Johnson 2021 Information
|Johnson, Jesse Lee
|Oregon State Penitentiary
|Black Or African American
|Field Admission Date:
|Earliest Release Date:
Jesse Johnson More News
Jesse Johnson was convicted of fatally stabbed Harriet Lavern “Sunny” Thompson, 28, in her Salem house in 1998. Her landlord found her body.
Jesse Johnson Other News
A Marion County Circuit Judge on Monday denied a death row inmate’s request to order new DNA testing in the 1998 fatal stabbing of a Salem woman.
Judge Channing Bennett wrote in an opinion letter that Jesse L. Johnson’s motion for more testing doesn’t show a clear defense theory that could lead to a finding that he is actually innocent in the killing of 28-year-old Harriet “Sunny” Thompson.
Johnson, now 57, asked to test 37 pieces of evidence, including some for the second time. His attorney argued the tests could open new investigative avenues and possibly lead to new suspects.
But that “chain of ‘ifs'” is too weak to constitute a defense, Bennett wrote. Jurors considered the evidence presented during his trial, including his denial, and found him guilty, the judge said.
“Nothing in the defendant’s argument demonstrates that a jury would more likely than not find him not guilty,” the judge wrote.Read the judge’s opinion.
Thompson was found dead from several stab wounds in her apartment in March 1998. Johnson was later found by police selling some of her jewelry.
A Marion County jury found Johnson guilty of aggravated murder in March 2004 and sentenced him to death that same month. The Oregon Supreme Court in 2007 upheld his conviction and death sentence on appeal. Another conviction challenge was struck down in 2015.
In 2016, attorneys with the Oregon Innocence Project were appointed as his lawyers and they filed a motion in Marion County Circuit Court for new DNA testing. They argued that advances in forensic science and updated techniques could lead to Johnson’s exoneration. They noted DNA analysis and other tests of at least 11 items in the case found no ties to Johnson.
Prosecutors asked the court to the deny the motion last year. Both sides argued their points before Bennett in October.
“The defendant’s inability to articulate a recognized theory of defense that DNA testing would support is fatal to the instant motion,” the judge said.
Johnson knew before his 2004 trial that all of the collected evidence had not been analyzed for DNA, but didn’t request the testing before his trial or during his appeal, Bennett wrote. Johnson also didn’t identify any DNA evidence that was improperly presented to the jury, according to the judge. Jurors also knew that some of the evidence tested, such as the object likely used to kill Thompson, didn’t have Johnson’s DNA.
Steve Wax, Johnson’s attorney and the Oregon Innocence Project’s legal director, said Tuesday that the judge’s ruling was disappointing. Johnson is asking for his claim of innocence to be investigated completely while he is still alive, Wax said
“In our view, the State and the court have misinterpreted the standard the law requires in order to grant DNA testing,” Wax said in a statement. “We believe that this decision is legally wrong and unfair to our client and that there are strong grounds for appeal.”
Johnson remains held at the Oregon State Penitentiary. He is one of 33 Oregon inmates on death row.