- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) - A woman convicted of killing her parents has had her request for an acquittal or new trial denied.

A central Idaho judge earlier this week rejected 27-year-old Sarah Johnson’s argument that new analytical techniques for DNA evidence could clear her of the murders.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports (https://bit.ly/1ucDfL5) that 5th District Court Judge G. Richard Bevan also rejected Johnson’s argument that life sentences without the possibility of parole constitute cruel and unusual punishment for juvenile offenders.

“We’re going to file a motion for reconsideration on the DNA portion and then we’re just going to take up the Eighth Amendment portion on appeal,” said one of Johnson’s attorneys, Dennis Benjamin. “And if the judge dismisses the DNA motion again, we’ll take that up on appeal, too.”

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Johnson was 16 in 2003, when prosecutors say she shot 46-year-old Alan Johnson and 52-year-old Diane Johnson with a rifle at the family’s Bellevue home.

She was convicted of pulling the trigger on a .264-caliber rifle, first killing her mother as she lay in bed in the early morning hours, then turning the weapon on her father as he exited the shower. Prosecutors said Johnson killed her parents after fighting with them over her boyfriend, a 19-year-old who authorities said entered the country illegally from Mexico and was living in central Idaho.

Johnson was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced in 2005 to life in prison without parole.

In previous court action, the Idaho Supreme Court in June 2008 denied Johnson’s request for exoneration or a new trail. The U.S. Supreme Court later that year declined to hear the case.

Bevan in his ruling noted that the possibility of a third person involved in the murders had been presented at Johnson’s 2005 trial.

The jury “considered this evidence and heard these arguments and still convicted Johnson of first-degree murder,” Bevan wrote. “At trial, a considerable amount of evidence was presented that placed Johnson at the scene and that linked her to the murders. Her stories were inconsistent and conflicted with the evidence.”

He also noted that Johnson’s DNA linked her to the killings, and that the “mountain of evidence” against her was “overwhelming.”

Johnson’s attorneys cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2012 that found life sentences without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

Bevan rejected that argument, noting it should have been brought forward in Johnson’s first post-conviction relief case. He also said that Idaho “does not have a mandatory fixed life sentencing scheme” for juveniles or adults, and that Johnson’s sentence was “discretionary.”

DNA expert Greg Hampikian, a professor of forensic biology at Boise State University and the director of the Idaho Innocence Project, is supporting efforts by Johnson’s attorneys.

“We’re still working on it,” Hampikian said. “We tried to get the DNA testing, but obviously it was not persuasive at this time.”


Information from: Idaho Mountain Express, https://www.mtexpress.com

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