- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The wife of Seattle triple murderer Melvin Johnson was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for her role in a scheme that involved the filing of bogus tax returns.

Loretta Johnson of Portland married her husband while he was in prison for the 1999 deaths of his half-sister, niece and grandniece.

Prosecutors said Melvin Johnson gathered identifying information of fellow inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla and other people, and directed his wife to file tax returns with fake income and withholding figures. About 125 returns were filed, and the defendants received $174,411 in refunds.

Melvin Johnson was sentenced in the case last month, with three years added to his life sentence. Loretta Johnson’s brother, Tommy Cannon, also pleaded guilty and received 18 months in prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Jones asked the obvious question at Tuesday’s hearing: “How could you possibly marry a person convicted of a triple murder who’s in prison for life? How does that come about?”

“It’s just something that happened?” Johnson replied.

“You met him on the Web?”

Johnson nodded.

“Have you ever met him in person?”

Johnson said yes, and she’s visited him in prison.

Johnson’s attorney, Lisa Hay, interjected: “People often have different sides to them that are not understandable, and obviously Mr. Johnson must have some good qualities if a person like…”

“Let’s just let it go,” the judge said.

According to news reports from the time, Melvin Johnson fatally shot Patricia Whitfield, 50, Artis “T.Z.” Ingram, 24, and Champagne Younger, 6, at Whitfield’s home day care center on June 8, 1999. Johnson and Whitfield had sparred over money and the inheritance of their late mother’s house.

A King County Superior Court jury convicted him in 2004 after a six-week trial.

In a deal with the prosecution, Loretta Johnson, who is 48 or 49 years old, pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft related to a tax return that claimed a $33,000 refund. Other counts were dismissed.

Hay said her client is a kind, compassionate person with a long work history of caring for the elderly and people with disabilities. She said “it’s clear” that Melvin Johnson got her involved in the scheme.

“She learned from him about taxes, about what she thought you could do,” Hay said. “Eventually, she knew she went beyond what’s allowed.”

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Follow Steven DuBois at http://twitter.com/pdxdub

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