Local News

Couple charged with manslaughter in toddler's death

Posted September 27, 2008 4:06 p.m. EDT
Updated September 28, 2008 3:35 p.m. EDT

— An Oxford couple has been charged in the death of their 21-month-old daughter, whose autopsy revealed alcohol and drugs in her system.

Joey Johnson, 46, and Kelly Hartman Johnson, 28, both of 2128 Johnson Creek Farm, face charges of manslaughter by negligence in the Aug. 21 death of their daughter, Maggie. They were being held in the Granville County Jail under separate $50,00 bonds.

According to autopsy results, Maggie's system had in it alcohol; a sedative, benzodiazephoine; and methadone, which is used to treat chronic pain or drug addiction.

Forensics experts estimated that Maggie had a BAC of 0.08 to 0.10 when medical workers were called out to her home on Aug. 16 around 10 p.m. Medical experts told officers that an over-the-counter medication was unlikely to be the source of that level of alcohol in that small a girl.

That level of alcohol combined with the drugs would be toxic to a girl Maggie's size, according to the arrest warrant.

EMS was called out to a home at 654 Cameron Way in Creedmoor, where the Johnsons were staying, because the parents said Maggie was unconscious and not breathing. They were the only ones in the home at the time, according to the arrest warrant.

Maggie was taken to Duke University Medical Center, where she lingered on life support for five days. She died almost immediately after life support was taken away.

In the arrest warrant, investigators say that doctors told them that Maggie had no brain activity, due to being deprived of oxygen for at least 20 minutes.

Joey and Kelly Johnson both gave statements to police saying that Maggie's grandmother had left klonopin pills in the kitchen and they had placed them in the bedroom dresser. Both parents said several neighbors drinking alcohol came by that day.

They claimed that they did not have any alcohol in the house, and Joey said that he had been clean for eight years.

Another daughter, however, told a social worker that her mom took pills for her foot and drank beer and that her dad took pills for his arm, the arrest warrant says.

A neighbor who drove Joey Johnson to the hospital told officers that "Joey was saying, 'It was Kelly's fault,' 'The baby got the klonopins.' Joey also uttered, 'I knew something was wrong with her, I should have done something sooner,'" according to the arrest warrant.

The neighbor also said that Kelly Johnson was afraid of Joey Johnson and that they had pot and pills in their house, according to the arrest warrant.

Joey later told officers he meant that Kelly Johnson had let Maggie get access to klonopin pills.

Kelly Johnson took 45 minutes to arrive at the hospital and later said that she was delayed changing out of her bathing suit, because officers kept trying to come into her bedroom, the warrant says. Officers who responded to the 911 call said they did not attempt to enter her bedroom.

Kelly Johnson said in the arrest warrant that she had found Maggie asleep on the bathroom floor, where the toddler had been playing with a puppy. The mother took Maggie to her crib in her parents' bedroom and found her pale and unbreathing when she checked on her 30 minutes later.

Kelly Johnson said she performed CPR until EMS workers arrived.

Joey Johnson has been convicted of driving while impaired six times in Granville County, according to state Department of Correction records. His criminal record dates to 1989 and includes convictions for second-degree kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a female and drug offenses.