Update March 16, 2005 -- Sarah Johnson convicted of her parents' murders.
Update Nov. 5 2004--Defense is accusing Santos of the murders. Scroll down to the bottom for details
We are spending a few days in Sun Valley, Idaho, where the big news locally is a 16 year old girl whois accused of murdering her parents. On Sept. 2, 2003, around 6:30 am, neighbors heard gunshots from the Alan and Diane Johnson's home. The first thought that the investigators had was that an intruder took a rifle from the Johnson's guest house and used it to shoot the couple. The couple's 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, was in the house at the time. Neighbors say that she ran out of the house and started pounding on neighbor's doors, begging for help. "We heard Sarah running down the street and yelling and saying somebody shot my father," said a neighbor. The couple's other child, Matt, was away at college at the University of Idaho.
As of Sept. 4th, the investigators said they do not believe Sarah saw anyone, but she is still in shock and they hope she may remember something. Alan Johnson was a landscaping employee for the past five years. Diane Johnson previously worked at the Hailey Medical Clinic, but had recently switched jobs.
Alan and Diane Johnson were well-liked in the community. On Sept. 11, 2003, More than 700 of the Johnsons’ family, friends, coworkers and well-wishers converged on the old Wood River High School auditorium for an hour-long memorial service to honor the husband and wife, who’d been married 20 years. The 675-seat auditorium overflowed. Some sat on the floor. About 50 more gathered at the room’s two rear doorways.
"Matt and Sarah (the couple’s children) came first in their lives," a family friend said. According to his obituary, Alan was an avid trap shooter and was considered to be one of the premier trap shooters of Southern Idaho. Alan’s love for his children and the outdoors meant that he would be found either at their games and activities or out with his dog, Sage, hunting ducks and geese.
Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said Diane Johnson was shot in the couple’s bed while Alan was taking a shower. The sheriff declined to elaborate about where Alan Johnson was shot or where his body was found. The murder weapon, a rifle of an unspecified caliber, was found in the home’s master bedroom, where the shootings unfolded. The rifle was typically stored in the Johnsons’ guest house, which was rented to a tenant. The Johnsons did not own the weapon, Femling said.
As of Sept. 11, Matt Johnson has returned to his classes at the University of Idaho, in Moscow, and Sarah Johnson is living with guardians who were specified in the Johnsons’ will. She is attending high school classes somewhere outside the Wood River Valley but inside Idaho.
On Wednesday, Oct. 29 officers arrested Sarah M. Johnson, 16, and charged her as an adult for the Sept. 2 murders of her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson of Bellevue. The news of Johnson’s arrest was issued at a press conference at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey on Thursday, Oct. 30, where nearly 70 members of the media, courthouse employees and law enforcement officers gathered.
At the press conference, authorities said they believe the 16-year-old acted out of revenge when her parents forbid her from seeing her fiancé, 19-year-old Hailey resident Bruno Santos. Santos was deported to Mexico on Sept. 12 but, as a result of the murder investigation, he was brought back to Blaine County to testify as a witness in the case, said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling.
On Tuesday and Wednesday preceding her arrest, a 16-member grand jury indicted the teenager for the murders, Femling said. Johnson, who was living with her mother’s sister in Caldwell for the last two months, was arrested at 8:20 p.m. following the indictment. According to Blaine County Sherriff Walt Femling, the teenager seemed "upset, angry, defiant" upon her arrest.
The events of Sept. 2, 2003 allegedly unfolded as follows:
At some point, Sarah Johnson entered her family's detached garage , which has a rented apartment. Sarah Johnson had a key to the apartment, where a Winchester .264 rifle and ammunition were stored. Sarah took the rifle, and sometime after 6 a.m., Diane Johnson died of a single gunshot wound to the head while she was in bed. A second shot killed Alan Johnson while he was in the couple’s bathroom. Sarah Johnson fled the scene, going to a neighbor’s home.
Upon arriving at the crime scene authorities searched the garbage cans that had been set out for the morning’s curbside pickup. Femling said authorities found a blood-soaked bathrobe, a latex glove and a cloth glove in one of the trash cans. Femling said crime lab research concluded that Sarah Johnson’s DNA was in the right hand latex glove and that Diane Johnson’s blood was on the bathrobe. The DNA analysis of the glove was the crux piece of information authorities were waiting for during the last two months, Femling said.
During the summer, Johnson had been hanging out with Bruno Santos, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was then 19. Johnson spent the night with him on Friday, Aug. 29, after lying to her parents and saying she was with girlfriends. Her parents eventually found her on Aug. 30 at Santos' apartment. Femling said the parents "discovered that she had become engaged to him on Friday night," Femling said. "As the family dealt with this over the weekend, one of the resolutions was to get law enforcement involved. We believe that this incident, that she was about to lose her boyfriend, was a contributing factor."
Femling said law enforcement officers obtained a detention warrant for Johnson on the day of the murders and took fingerprints and hair and blood samples. Femling said they also discovered a bruise on her left shoulder, which could have been caused by the recoil from a rifle.
Several family members have visited Johnson at the Blaine County Jail, said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling. Her brother, University of Idaho, Moscow, student Matt Johnson has not been among them. Femling called the murders of Alan and Diane Johnson and, Sarah Johnson’s subsequent arrest for those murders, "devastating" for him.
Alan Johnson had a life insurance policy, benefitting his children equally; now that Sarah has been accused of her parents' murder, she can't benefit. So the insurance company is suing to recover the benefits. Matt has no other source of support, evidently.
Update November 2004: Bruno Santos, who was deported to Mexico in September 2003, was returned to the United States on October 29 2003, and has been living in Blaine County under a special parole status so that he may be available for defense and prosecution questioning and for the trial, which has been delayed several times and is now scheduled for Feb. 2005. On Oct. 30, Santos was arrested for possession of methamphetamine. Johnson's defense team is going to make the case that Bruno Santos planned and carried out the double murder of Sarah's parents. "In the latest in a series of recent pretrial hearings (Nov. 5, 2004) before 5th District Judge Barry Wood, defense attorney Robert Pangburn argued Friday that Santos remains a suspect in the crimes." Johnson's aunt used to believe that Santos committed the crime, but now believes Sarah was responsible.
Also for the first time, Johnson's aunt, Linda Vavold (Diane Johnson’s sister), said on Friday that she suspected her niece might have committed the murders from the time Johnson first came to live with her family in Caldwell immediately after the murders. Pangburn asked Vavold when, exactly, it was when she changed her mind. "It was gradual," Vavold said, "but it was before she came that I had serious doubts." "And about when was that?" Pangburn asked. "On September 14," Vavold replied. Vavold had said in earlier hearings that she had believed Santos committed the slayings until Johnson was arrested a month after the murders.
This is confusing. I think the story implies that Vavold started out suspecting Johnson, but then changed her mind and now suspects Santos.