Christopher Matthew Johnson, the Owensboro man sentenced to 50 years in prison for shooting a man and a woman in a 2013 assault at a home in Whitesville, had another appeal rejected Friday by the state Court of Appeals.
A jury found Johnson, 33, guilty of two counts of first-degree assault and one count of first-degree burglary in the shooting, which took place at the home of Johnson’s ex-girlfriend, Andrea Ward. Jurors found Johnson guilty entering Ward’s home through the garage and shooting Ward and her boyfriend, Aaron Knott. Both were shot multiple times, and Knott was paralyzed.
Jurors recommended Johnson serve two 20-year sentences for the assaults, and a 10-year burglary sentence, but recommended they be served at the same time for a total of 20 years in prison. At sentencing, Daviess Circuit Judge Joe Castlen rejected the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Johnson to 50 years in prison after a hearing where both Knott and Ward testified.
The Court of Appeals rejected Johnson’s first appeal in 2016, and Castlen rejected a motion to vacate his convictions in 2018. Johnson appealed the rejected motion to vacate to the court of appeals, arguing his defense council had been ineffective to the point making the proceeding against him unfair.
On Friday, the appeals court rejected Johnson’s allegation that his defense had been ineffective.
Johnson argued his public defender, Leigh Jackson, didn’t properly strike one juror, and had allowed a biased juror to serve on the jury. Johnson also argued his defense never obtained an expert to testify that Johnson was suffering from “extreme emotional disturbance” when the shooting occurred, and that Johnson’s mother and ex-girlfriend should have been allowed to testify on his behalf during trial.
The Appeals judges ruled Jackson had properly struck the juror from serving, and that Johnson had not proven the bias in any jury members, or that Jackson has any way of knowing of any bias. The judges found experts generally aren’t allowed to testify on whether a person is suffering from “extreme emotional disturbance,” saying that is a determination that can only be made by a jury.
Johnson’s mother, did testify, at the hearing Castlen held before Johnson was sentenced, the justices wrote, and “provided exactly the testimony Johnson wanted her to provide.”
The judges also rejected the argument that any testimony, Johnson’s ex-girlfriend, Lauren Wilkerson, could have provided would have made a difference. Johnson argued Wilkerson could have testified Johnson always carried a gun with a concealed-carry permit, which would have shown “he didn’t just take (the gun) with him as a plan to intentionally harm anyone.”
The judges found Wilkerson hadn’t seen Johnson in the time since they’d broken up and he’d begun dating Ward, so she couldn’t comment on whether he always carried a handgun.
They also rejected the contention that Wilkerson could have argued Johnson was always peaceful, because Johnson himself had testified at trial his relationship with Ward was “tumultuous, fraught with arguments, and on at least one occasion punctuated with an incident (where Johnson) willfully damaged Ward’s vehicle.”
Johnson is serving his sentence at Green River Correctional Complex in Central City. Johnson will be eligible for parole in 2033.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse