KETCHUM • A Boise attorney and the Idaho Innocence Project are trying to get a new trial for a woman who was convicted of killing both her parents after a fight about her boyfriend.
Twenty-five-year-old Sarah Marie Johnson was 16 in 2003 when prosecutors said she shot Alan and Diane Johnson with a rifle at the family's Bellevue home. Fifth District Judge Richard Bevan already ruled last year that Johnson's claims of ineffective legal counsel and new evidence didn't warrant a new trial. Now her attorney, Dennis Benjamin with the firm Nevin, Benjamin, McKay & Bartlett, has asked the judge to reconsider.
"We believe Sarah's innocent,'' Benjamin told the Idaho Mountain Express (http://bit.ly/IAHCrW) on Tuesday. "I believe that in my heart. I'm suggesting that she's completely innocent.''
Benjamin is working on the case with Deborah Whipple, an attorney with the Idaho Innocence Project. The attorneys contend that some DNA evidence wasn't tested in the original criminal case, that new scientific methods can be used to identify other possible suspects and that Johnson had ineffective legal counsel throughout her court proceedings.
The Idaho Attorney General's Office, which is representing the state of Idaho in Johnson court proceedings, declined Monday to comment on Benjamin's filings. However, Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Jorgensen filed a response on April 16 to Benjamin's claims, arguing that the case should not be reopened because the claims were made too late, after legal deadlines had passed.
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During Johnson's trial, prosecutors described Johnson as a selfish, self-absorbed killer who shot her parents out of a "fantasy'' to marry her older lover and live off her inheritance money. Prosecutors said the parents had threatened to have Johnson's boyfriend, a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant named Bruno Santos, arrested.
Her attorneys countered that there was no blood found on her body after the murders, and contended that if she had been the one to pull the trigger, she would have been covered in blood. In subsequent appeals, her attorneys said fingerprints had been discovered on the murder weapon that matched those of a renter who had been living in the family's guesthouse.