Sarah Johnson was sixteen years old when she was charged with her parents murders. According to court documents Sarah Johnson would fatally shoot her mother who was sleeping in her bed and would then fatally shoot her father who was in a bathroom nearby. At trial prosecutors would point to a wealth of DNA evidence in order to convict her. Sarah Johnson would deny that she had anything to do with her parents murders and continues to fight her conviction. The judge would sentence the teen killer to two life terms and she remains in a Idaho prison
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The Idaho Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a Blaine County woman who was convicted of killing her parents while still a teen in 2003.
Sarah Marie Johnson was sentenced to life without parole in 2005 for fatally shooting her father, 46-year-old Alan Johnson, and mother, 52-year-old Diane Johnson. At the time, prosecutors said Johnson killed her parents after fighting with them over her relationship with an older man.
In a ruling handed down Friday, the Idaho Supreme Court said Johnson’s two fixed life sentences don’t violate the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.×
The unanimous court agreed that two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings forbid mandatory life sentences for juveniles. But they said those rulings didn’t impact Johnson’s case because the sentencing judge considered her age — 16 years old — as a mitigating factor before sentencing her to life in prison.
That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court rulings left it up to states to decide how to enforce the constitutional restrictions on juvenile sentences, essentially requiring that a judge consider the juvenile offender’s youth and attendant characteristics before determining that life without parole is appropriate, the Idaho Supreme Court found.
The trial court in Johnson’s case held a hearing to determine whether the crime was one that “reflected the transient immaturity of youth,” Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick wrote in Friday’s ruling. That hearing was the sentencing hearing, Burdick wrote, during which experts testified about the developmental state of an adolescent’s brain, among other things. The trial judge also made specific references to Johnson’s youth during the sentencing, showing that it was weighed against the heinous nature of her crimes, the high court found.
That’s enough to satisfy the requirements of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Burdick wrote.
“We recognize the holdings in Miller and Montgomery apply to Idaho, but affirm the district court’s ruling that the substantive requirement in those cases — that the sentencing court holds a hearing that considers the youth of the offender — was met,” Burdick wrote.
The Idaho Supreme Court also found that Johnson isn’t entitled to have new testing run on DNA samples collected after the murders, and that claims that her attorney was ineffective during an earlier post-conviction appeal aren’t a sufficient reason to justify a second post-conviction appeal.
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With the slip of a tongue, a teenage girl admitted to brutally gunning down her parents in their bedroom, according to an inmate who shared a jail cell with her.
Convicted felon Malinda Gonzales told jurors Wednesday that Sarah Johnson talked freely while she awaited trial on charges of first-degree murder for her parents’ deaths.
“I would ask her questions over and over again,” Gonzales said. “One time, she said, ‘When I killed …’.” Then she stopped herself and was like, ‘When the killers …’.”
“What did she say to that?” Blaine County prosecutor Jim Thomas asked.
“She just looked at me, and I was like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to rat on you,'” Gonzales said. “I didn’t think I would.”
More than a year later, the two “bunkies” were reunited in Ada County Courthouse Wednesday, where prosecutors are arguing that Sarah killed her parents, Diane and Alan Johnson, because they disapproved of her Mexican boyfriend.
Johnson faces life in prison if convicted.
Gonzales and several other witnesses who spent time in custody with Sarah testified that she freely volunteered details about her rocky relationship with her parents — particularly her mother — and of her acrimonious relationship with relatives in the wake of the murders.
But for all Sarah’s talk, each witness — except Gonzales — conceded that the defendant never admitted to killing her parents on September 2, 2003.
“She said she’d have knock-down, drag-out fights with her mom because she favored her brother and would give him anything,” Gonzales said.
Members of Sarah’s family in court, including her brother, Matt, winced as the five-time convicted drug trafficker offered her blunt assessments on the witness stand.
“But she loved her dad; she was a daddy’s girl. She said her father had changed the life insurance and she was going to get everything because her brother was not really his kid,” Gonzales said.
Sarah, now 18, has been in custody since October 31, 2003, when she was arrested almost two months after the murders.
One of her former inmates said Sarah claimed her brother Matt refused to post her bond, even though he had the means to do so.
“She pretty much despised him because after the murders, he spent the insurance claims on a [Chevy] Suburban and a house and getting married, while she was in jail,” said Autumn Fisher, who spent 16 days in jail with Sarah.
Novetta Hartmann, who spent 10 days with Sarah, said things were not much better with her aunts and uncles.
“She talked about how her family had kind of dismissed her and when she was living [with them], they tapped her phone and conned her into going to the burial so they could arrest her,” Hartmann told jurors.
“She talked a lot about the insurance money and about taking her guardian, Pat, on a cruise to Mexico or something,” she said.
The guardian, Pat Alder, blew Sarah a kiss from the witness stand Wednesday, and was dismissed quickly when she refused to answer prosecutors’ questions.
Hartmann testified that her parents seemed to be the least of Sarah’s concerns when she was in prison.
“She was upset a couple times because she went to court and it wasn’t on TV. She would say, ‘It should be on TV,'” Hartmann said. “When the case was going, she was upset she couldn’t wear regular clothes, had to wear her oranges.”
Each day before court, when Sarah Johnson arrives to the Ada County Courthouse from the county jail, a member of the defense team provides her with business-casual attire, jewelry and make-up. Her hair is always neatly coiffed.
Prosecutors are expected to rest their case this week. The trial is being aired live on Court TV.