Johnson gets death
Published 10:44 pm Monday, December 11, 2006
By By Lisa Tindell – news writer
Minutes after firing his defense attorneys Friday, Christopher Thomas Johnson told an Escambia County jury that he killed infant son and deserved to die for it.
A few hours later, the jury agreed.
The Atmore man was convicted on capital murder charges in the death of his six-month-old son Elias Ocean Johnson, and the jury recommended a sentence of death.
Elias was pronounced dead at Atmore Community Hospital on Feb. 20, 2005, the victim of what medical examiners testified were “traumatic injuries.”
Johnson's testimony came near the end of a two-and-a-half day trial at the Escambia County Courthouse in Brewton. Jury selection began earlier in the week and took nearly as long as the trial itself.
On Friday, just as they were preparing closing arguments, Johnson fired public defender Todd Stearns and co-counsel Charles Johns.
Johnson said in his open-court dismissal of his attorneys that he no longer trusted the pair to represent him to an end that he desired.
Johns said Johnson told them the defendant was not aware early on that the jury might be faced with a choice between a capital murder or manslaughter conviction in the case.
Prosecuting attorneys Reo Kirkland Jr. and District Attorney Steve Billy presented evidence including expert witness testimony and dozens of photos and graphs detailing an autopsy performed by the Department of Forensic Sciences staff in Mobile.
Dana Johnson, the mother of the child and Johnson's wife at the time of the incident, testified that she had seen Johnson putting pressure on the child at their home.
In evidence from the autopsy report, Enstice said pressure such as what Mrs. Johnson had seen never have caused the injuries seen in this case.
Also during testimony, a taped recording of a statement given to Atmore Police just prior to Johnson's arrest was played for the jury. In the statement Johnson admitted to slapping the child twice, putting his fingers in his mouth and putting his hand over the child's mouth.
As the tape was played in court, Johnson broke down in sobs.
Enstice testified that Elias had blood in his stomach and lungs, which, she said indicated he had swallowed blood and breathed blood into his lungs.
Other injuries in the mouth also confirmed Johnson's taped admission of putting fingers into the mouth of the baby, Enstice said.
Other injuries identified and pointed out in photos by Enstice included numerous small bruises across the face; swollen ears; a swollen lower lip; a number of other scrapes and bruises throughout the entire region of the child's head as well as a bite mark on the child's right arm near the elbow.
Scratches were also evident from the autopsy photos shown during the trial. In one photo, Enstice pointed out the ethmoid, or sinus, bone in the child's skull.
In his closing statement to the jury, Johnson maintained he did not cause blunt force injuries to his son.
Following Johnson's admission on the witness stand, the jury took less than half an hour to render its guilty verdict.
Prosecuting attorney Kirkland thanked the jury for their verdict and asked that they recommend the death penalty.
Johnson also addressed the jury prior to the penalty phase of the case.
Johnson has been returned to the Escambia County Detention Center where he will remain until he can be processed into a prison facility.
According to information from the law enforcement officials, Johnson may remain in the Escambia County facility for up to 30 days before being transferred to another facility.
Although an immediate appeal is typical when guilty verdicts are returned in capital murder cases, Johnson made it a point twice during the closing of the trial that he did not wish the case to be appealed.