Bad things can happen even in the nicest neighborhoods. One minute you can be sitting in your breakfast nook, enjoying your morning coffee, and the next you can find yourself embroiled in a web of lies, fear, and murder.
That’s exactly what happened to suburbanite mom, Kim, on one rare September morning. It was a morning that would change her entire neighborhood and her life, forever…
Running Next Door
It was early September morning in Bellevue, Idaho. Kim was sitting in her living room, sipping at her morning coffee, when she heard a frantic knock at the door. It was early, far too early for anyone to be knocking at her door and certainly not that loudly. She rushed to open it and beheld a panicked teenager panting on the doorstep.
The girl’s name was Sarah. She was a 16-year-old Wood River High School student and her parents had been Kim’s neighbors for years. She was panicked, almost inconsolable, and it took Kim a while to calm her down enough for her to clearly explain what happened. She said that she was laying in bed when she heard gunshots in the house…
Though Sarah, hadn’t seen the perpetrator, she’d heard the shots. She called out for her parents, Diane and Alan, but received no answer. Worried about what she might find, Sarah snuck into her parent’s bedroom only to find that their home had indeed been attacked by some unknown shooter and that her parents were dead.
Strange Smells and Sensations
Kim Richard, hoping beyond hope that the girl might be delusional, decided to escort her back home before reaching out to the police. She felt a sense of trepidation as she approached the house and for a moment, she wondered if she should open the front door. No sooner had she done so, than she was greeted by a strange odor…
She walked into the house and the smell got worse, it was the coppery smell of blood and smoky cordite. Kim went into the main bedroom, beneath her feet, she felt sogginess. Bits of hair and skin had been sprayed around the room. Amidst the debris, lay the lifeless body of Diane.
Showered in Gore
As for Alan Johnson’s body, Kim was had seen more than enough up until that point. She called the police, who arrived to investigate the crime scene. Alan was discovered in the shower, his broken, blood-spattered skull sprayed the walls. But who could have done such a terrible thing, and what did they use to do it?
As they investigated the rest of the house for any clues, they found what was unequivocally the murder weapon. The firearm was a Winchester rifle and it had been left on the floor as if on purpose by the killer. A crucifix, which had previously hung upon the wall, was laid upon it where it fell.
Oddly enough, the subsequent interview with the deceased couple’s daughter Sarah, was more enlightening than police would have initially suspected. There were some holes in her story and her behavior regarding the gunshots seemed somewhat suspicious. Before they could make an arrest, however, they’d have to learn more about the family…
As it happened, Sarah was hardly the perfect daughter that many of Johnson’s neighbors believed her to be. Puberty had made her rambunctious and prone to making rash decisions. One of which was dating 19-year-old Bruno Santos, an undocumented immigrant who her parents did not approve of.
It wasn’t that he was illegal or even a particularly bad influence on her, but Bruno was just too old for her. Diane and Alan were so intent on having the two of them break up that they threatened to call the police and have him arrested if Sarah didn’t cut ties with the boy. If there was any motive at all for Sarah to have done the deed, that was it…
Before they could bring charges against Sarah for her parents’ murder, they needed to get a little more physical evidence. They checked the crime scene and noticed that CSI had picked up a discarded bathrobe and latex glove in the garage. The glove even had clear gunshot residue on it.
When they looked upstairs and went into Sarah’s bedroom, they discovered the other glove. It was pretty clear that the teenager had staged much of the crime scene and just hadn’t thought it all through. All of the items contained DNA from Sarah Johnson and her victims. It was time to bring her in…
Sarah Johnson was quickly apprehended and summarily charged with her the murders of both her parents. Surprisingly, despite what amounted to somewhat overwhelming evidence and a couple of pretty clear motives, Sarah put in a plea of not guilty. It was a bold move by her lawyers to be sure.
The prosecution argued that Sarah’s reasons for killing her parents included not just being angry at them for having opposed her relationship with Bruno Santos, but also something no one had expected. You see, Sarah stood to inherit quite a bit of money after her parents’ deaths, and the prosecutors believed that was why she’d done the deed…
The DNA evidence on the gun and gloves weren’t the only “smoking gun” the prosecution had: They also had a smoking gun. The Winchester rifle apparently belonged to another person who kept the weapon locked away in the guest house gun safe. The question was, how did Sarah get the keys to unlock the case?
Taking the Gun
The Johnson’s tenant in the guest house had left for Boise, Idaho a week before, so the gun was unguarded. According to Diane’s sister, who was brought up to testify at the trial, Sarah had asked for the keys to the gun safe a mere two days before the murder, and she had given them to her. The verdict was secured…
It was on March 16, 2005, that a jury of her peers found Sarah Marie Johnson guilty of the murders of Diane and Alan Johnson. She was sentenced to two concurrent life terms, one for each victim, plus 15 years additional for a firearm enhancement. She hadn’t even graduated high school.
In 2012, seven years after she went away for the rest of her life, Sarah Johnson’s lawyer filed a petition for a new trial. It was his contention that her legal team at the time had been ineffective and it had greatly impacted the verdict. There was also some concern about the DNA analytical techniques at the time…
He contended that with a competent lawyer and new DNA investigative techniques brought to bear, they could prove that Sarah was innocent of the murders. He added that the jury was already aware of something called “Phantom prints” and that even knowing that, they still convicted the girl of first-degree murder.
In October 2014, two years after trying for a retrial, the request was denied. Three years later, and after dozens of more appeals, her last appeal was rejected by the Idaho Supreme Court. It’s a story about love, tragedy, and justice, but there are still no happy endings.