Jury Sentences Timothy Johnson To Life In Prison
Posted August 22, 2005 6:41 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — After just two hours of deliberation, the same jury that found Timothy Johnson guilty of first-degree murder decided that the 23-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"It is the judgment of the court that the defendant be imprisoned for the rest of the remainder of his natural life for a term of life imprisonment without parole in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Correction," said Judge Osmond Smith as he read the jury's decision.
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Last week, the jury found Johnson guilty for the first-degree murder of Chicago businessman Kevin McCann, 23, and guilty for the second-degree murder of Camp Lejeune Marine 2nd Lt. Brett Harman, also 23. Authorities say the two were shot and killed at an N.C. State tailgate party Sept. 4, 2004.
For the first time, Johnson's family and one of the victim's family shared a moment of peace -- a simple handshake between the defendant's mother and a victim's brother. It signaled the end to the traumatic three-week journey.
"We just want to let them know we're sorry for the grief they've been caused and the heartache," said the defendant's mother, Ann Johnson.
All along, the victims' family members have said they would be satisfied with a sentence of life in prison.
"It seems reasonable," said Rob Harman, Brett Harman's brother. "I don't think -- we don't need anymore death. I'm sure Brett and Kevin have forgiven him and it doesn't make sense to put any of our families through anymore pain than already has been caused."
Johnson himself had little reaction to the verdict. Just minutes after it was read, he left the courtroom in handcuffs, wide-eyed and pale, escorted by deputies.
"I think he's a little bit in shock," said defense attorney Joe Cheshire. "It's a pretty tough time he's faced. He's grateful, but he's still sad about the verdict itself."
Under the law, the state had to provide one aggravating circumstance to allow the jury to sentence him to death. Prosecutors said that circumstance is the fact Johnson was previously convicted of a violent felony -- a Raleigh home invasion.
"When you retire to deliberate, you may hold hands, you may pray, you may cry, but if you weep for defendant and the poor choices he made, you must weep also for Brett Harman and Kevin McCann," said prosecutor Susan Spurlin.
The defense argued that there are 25 mitigating factors that should outweigh the aggravating factors, which include Johnson's difficult family life, his ADHD, his substance abuse and his remorse.
"My heart breaks for them, but we can't bring them back. Killing Tim won't bring them back. It won't uplift your souls. It won't make you feel better, and it's not the law," Cheshire said.
The defense also pointed out that members of the victims' families did not ask for Johnson to be put to death. He pointed out that other killers such as Dennis Rader and Eric Rudolph were sentenced to life.
Cheshire said he plans to appeal the guilty verdict in the first-degree murder conviction because it fell under something called the felony murder rule. He said he feels the rule does not apply in this case.
Either way, the case is still not over. Timothy Johnson's brother, Tony Johnson, is also charged with double-murder in the case and has yet to be tried.
All three families say they intend to be in the courtroom for Tony Johnson's trial, which is scheduled for October. His attorney, Johnny Gaskins, however, has filed a motion to continue the trial to another date.