Emotional Intelligence | Stevehein.com

 

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Sarah Johnson - "Freedom" and Death

16 year old senteced to life in prison for the murder of her parents.

 

When I did a search in google for "teen prison" I happened to find an article about Sarah Johnson, who was convicted of killing her parents. In the first article I found, I didn't see anything about how the parents had treated Sarah. Since I tend to believe in something called cause and effect, I speculated that the relationship between theSarah and the people called her parents left a little to be desired before she killed them, assuming she did. And I will make that assumption, since I have now read a few more stories about the case.

What I did see in the first article was this quote by the judge, speaking to Sarah:

"You had it all — you had a nice house, a loving family, a car. You were on your way to a good education. You had freedom," he said. "Yet you elected the worst possible conduct, the most vile, devastating harsh option, when you had complete freedom to choose any other."

I would disagree with the judge. I would say Sarah didn't have it all, especially after having read more stories. I found out that she didn't have her parents understanding or acceptance, for example. She didn't have their trust. I also found out that she wasn't as free as the judge seems to think she was. First of all, before even reading any of the other stories I could have asked the judge if Sarah were free to leave the USA. As it turns, out, in Sarah's case, this could freedom could have made the differene between life and death for two people.

With a little more reading, we learn that, according to several accounts, Sarah was engaged to a 19 year old. This particular 19 year old was born in a part of the world called "Mexico" and thus is considered by most, including the police and immigrant authorities in the USA, to be a "Mexican". He also was evidenlty breaking US laws by living in the USA at the time he was seeing Sarah. So the news clips often refer to him as an "illegal Mexican immigrant."

I would speculate that this is also exactly the way Sarah's parents viewed him. By the way, in one account of the story, Sarah is said to have lived in an "affluent neighborhood", so we might guess that her parents didn't like the fact that "their" daughter was seeing someone of, in their mind, an obviously much lower social class.

In any case, no matter what the parents thought, it has been reported that the parents were planning to turn her fiance over to the police, probably both because of his illiegal immigrant status and also because she was labeled by the laws in the USA as a "minor" and her fiance was labeled as an "adult". This means that the person Sarah wanted to be with could have been a) deported to Mexico or b) put in prison for statutory rape.

Keep in mind that all of this could be done without any input whatsoever from Sarah. Just as Ocean's father stopped her from communcating with me last year without Ocean having any input into the case. In case you aren't very familiar with that case, as Ocean puts it the judge never laid eyes on her. After all she was only a "minor" so her feelings, her thoughts, her opinions, her wishes were irrelevant. That is how "justice" works in the land of the free, the United States of America, as well as in many other countries which claim to be "free" and "just."

So let's consider for a moment what might have happened if Sarah really "had her freedom" as the judge lectured to her. Well, first of all she might have moved out of her parents' house. Second of all she might have gone to Mexico with her fiance.

I am guessing that had either of these things happened the two people known the murder victims would still be alive.

A lot of people in the United States, as well as many other countries, believe that if we have more rules, more punishment and more control of teenagers, life will get better.

But I would say that all the rules, laws, and restrictions on freedom in Sarah's case didn't make life better for her parents, or anyone else.

 


Another clip from a different article:

(Sarah)did not return home on Friday, Aug. 29, and on Aug. 30 her parents eventually found her at her fiancÚ’s apartment, he said.

"They 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.

So to this I say "Bad idea, mom and dad."

What I would suggest to parents instead of running to the police, or threateng to do so, is to start taking the feelings of people known as "their minor children" a lot more seriously and a lot sooner. Now this might sound like I condone what Sarah did, or that I encourage other teens to kill their parents as a way of getting back at them, teaching them a lesson or changing society. I don't. But neither do I agree with what the parents did or what the judge did. And neither do I agree with the general "threaten and punish" mentality of so many countries which claimed to be modern, free, developed, etc.

As is so often the case, by the way, the news reporters spent very little time investigating the background. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sarah had been abused in some way by her parents and that with a little digging this abuse could have been uncovered and the judge could have taken it into consideration and recommended something more intelligent be done with Sarah. It doesn't even look like the defending attorney tried to get the judge to use a little imagination if not intellect before he came up with his sentence and his little lecture to go along with it about how Sarah "had it all." Also, does the judge really think that she had a loving family? Or that she should be happy if she has a car and has been held prisoner in "nice house", but she can't chose to be with the person she wants to be with and even worse, she faces the possibility of seeing him sent to prison by the people who are supposedly the same ones who are the head of her "loving family"?

I think of what 14 year old Jess said..." I don't think parents have the right to take things that are precious away from their children." But sadly, people called parents do have the legal right to do exactly that.

Also, because of the way the punishment system works, often referred to as the justitce system, Sarah was afraid to say she killed her parents. If we didn't punish people so much, wouldn't they be more likely to tell the truth?

What if instead of waiting till someone like Sarah kills her parents, we try instead to educate people about how to treat a young human being with respect, if not love. And we try to identify problems in the family before they reach this level, or the level of Giulia


Too much love and too much freedom??

In closing, the prosecution asked the court to focus on the victims. "This court has allowed the defendant to be portrayed as the victim, but the real victims have largely been ignored aside from being the object of Sarah's rage," Thomas said.

"Their only real error was giving Sarah Johnson too much love and too much freedom," he said.

 


More clips from the June 30, 2005 CourtTV article

Prosecutors argued during the six-week trial that she killed her parents because they objected to her dating a 19-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant and threatened to have him arrested for statutory rape.

Her father had confronted the boyfriend, Bruno Santos, in his home three days before the murder.

It might seem obvious to those of us without a degree in law why Sarah would want to kill her parents, but the judge said:

"I have searched and searched and I can find no rational basis why your parents were killed. It just escapes me," Wood said, comparing Johnson to other offenders he sentenced the earlier in the week, all of whom had histories of mental illness, physical or sexual abuse, or substance addiction.

By the way, Mr Judge, just because you didn't see any evidence of what you call abuse, doesn't mean it didn't exist. And if you knew a little more about teenagers and dysfunctional families you might have looked a little harder for abuse, including emotional/psychological abuse, which you might not even know exists and can be more damaging than physical or sexual abouse. But actually I'd say killing your parents is pretty convincing evidence there was abuse, and lots of it for a long time.

Anyhow, I wonder if the judge thinks the devil made her do it.


From the June 30, 2005 CourtTV article

Prosecutors argued during the six-week trial that she killed her parents because they objected to her dating a 19-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant and threatened to have him arrested for statutory rape.

Her father had confronted the boyfriend, Bruno Santos, in his home three days before the murder. Sarah Johnson spent the ensuing days in the family's guesthouse, where prosecutors say she obtained the murder weapon and plotted the crime.

 


On a somewhat encouraging note, just before I came upon this news story I had been reading about one person from the USA who didn't agree with the threaten and punish philosophy. His name is James Kimmel. He died a few years ago but before he died he wrote this article called "Why Do We Hurt Our Children?"

 


More clips

Blaine County prosecutors contend Sarah killed her parents, who disapproved of her relationship with a 19-year-old Mexican immigrant, after her father threatened to report him to police if he continued seeing their daughter.

Source

 


July 6, 2005 CourtTV.com article

HAILEY, Idaho — Sarah Johnson's plea to a judge in the hope that she may one day reenter society may have failed, but the focus of her incarceration will still be on rehabilitation and reentry into society.

"It's always possible something will change," said Teresa Jones of the Idaho Department of Corrections regarding the 18-year-old Idaho teen's sentence of life without parole for the premeditated shootings of her parents in 2003.

"If that happens, we want to be sure to send her back out having dealt with some of the risks she came in with," said Jones.

Following her sentencing last week on two counts of first-degree murder for killing her parents, Johnson will join the ranks of 39 offenders who are less than 20 years of age serving life sentences in Idaho.


Johnson was convicted in March of two counts of first-degree murder for shooting her sleeping mother in the head at point-blank range before gunning down her father as he exited the shower. She was 16 at the time.

Fifth District Judge Barry Wood cited the calculated and cold-blooded nature of the crime in fashioning his sentence, and noted that had she been an adult when the murders occurred, she would be eligible for the death penalty under Idaho law.

Immediately following her sentencing, Johnson was transferred from the Blaine County Jail in the small hillside community of Hailey — her on-and-off home for most of the past two years — to another holding facility, where she will remain until the state assumes custody of her and sends her to the Pocatello Women's Correctional Center in southeast Idaho.

Pocatello, the state's only all-female prison, houses inmates at all custody levels. Johnson will join about 300 other inmates, including the state's single female death row inmate, in a facility that has been filled to capacity for the past three years.

Further complicating Johnson's arrival in Pocatello will be her reunion with a former "bunkie" who offered profanity-laced testimony at trial stating that Johnson admitted to killing her parents.

Convicted felon and jailhouse snitch Malinda Gonzales, who is serving a drug sentence in Pocatello, told jurors that Johnson inadvertently blurted out, "When I killed my" before stopping herself to say, "When the killers"

As a cautionary measure, Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said he may ask to transfer Johnson out of state to serve her sentence. "We're worried about Sarah hooking up with someone and causing Malinda problems," he said, adding that the decision will ultimately lie with the Idaho Department of Corrections.

Should Johnson end up in Pocatello, her days will be much fuller than they were in county jail.

She will be treated like an adult, receiving a job doing laundry or working in the kitchen, and will attend counseling sessions.

"The inmates get a lot more attention and counseling in the prisons than they do in county jail," said Blaine County Sheriff J. Walt Femling, who oversaw the investigation leading up to Johnson's October 2003 arrest.

Johnson, who would have graduated this year from Wood River High School in Hailey, may continue working toward her general equivalency diploma. The Department of Corrections receives grants to fund high school education for inmates, 44 percent of whom enter the system without a high school diploma.

Should she pursue a degree in higher education by some means of correspondence, she will have to do so at her own cost, which many inmates have done successfully, Jones said.

After she arrives, she will undergo various medical and mental health examinations to assess her risk and devise a case plan for rehabilitation.

"Our focus is on opening their minds to different ways of thinking and behaving," said Jones. "The programs she's assigned to will be driven by the assessment."

Jones says programs to deal with issues of abuse and family dynamics are designed specifically for female inmates, who make up less than 10 percent of Idaho's prison population of 6,500.

But as Judge Wood noted in open court as he explained his ruling Thursday, Johnson's situation is unique in that she has no history of the risk factors typically associated with violent offenders, such as substance abuse or severe mental disorders.

She has also refused to admit she killed her parents.

Addressing Johnson directly at the sentencing, Wood said he questioned whether there was anything in her to rehabilitate.

"You had it all — you had a nice house, a loving family, a car. You were on your way to a good education. You had freedom," he said. "Yet you elected the worst possible conduct, the most vile, devastating harsh option, when you had complete freedom to choose any other."


The "too much love and too much freedom" article

 

HAILEY, Idaho — Were it not for her age, 18-year-old Sarah Johnson would be eligible for the death penalty for the shooting deaths of her parents, a judge noted Thursday as he sentenced her to life in prison without parole.

"You have already received the benefit of your age," Judge Barry Wood told Johnson before giving her the maximum sentence. "If this were a death penalty case, you would be a candidate for it."

The judge spent almost an hour analyzing the calculated and cold-blooded nature of Johnson's crimes at the end of the two-day sentencing hearing in Idaho's Fifth District Court.

Johnson's face fell with each piece of evidence Wood mentioned, and she appeared to know what sentence was coming. She showed little emotion at the ruling — in contrast to her loud sobs during the trial and penalty phase.


Sitting in the row behind her, her family also appeared unsurprised by the sentence.

Wood began by reminding Johnson that a jury verdict had stripped her of the presumption of innocence, in spite of her refusal to acknowledge her guilt or express remorse or regret.

Right up until the end, Johnson refused to concede her involvement.

"I loved my parents, and I love my family. I am deeply grieving the loss of my parents as well as the loss of my family, my home, my friends and my community," she said in a statement to the court.

"With the guidance of the Lord and the continued love and support of those who believe in me, I hope to rebuild my life and prove that I can be a productive member of society," she said.

Outside court, her lawyer also expressed his support for his client.

"The judge still chooses not to focus on evidence of another shooter," Bob Pangburn told Courttv.com, referring to unidentified fingerprints found on the murder weapon.

In a statement to the court Thursday morning, Pangburn said Johnson would make an ideal candidate for parole after serving 15 years in prison and asked Wood to afford her the special treatment due to children under the law.

"The court's purpose is to punish, not to destroy," he said. "Children should be punished as children. Adults should be punished as adults."

Johnson was 16 years old when, as prosecutors alleged, she hatched a plot to shoot her parents using a .264 Winchester Magnum rifle.

A jury unanimously found her guilty in March of two counts of first-degree murder for the Sept. 2, 2003, shooting of her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, in their Bellevue home.

Prosecutors argued during the six-week trial that she killed her parents because they objected to her dating a 19-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant and threatened to have him arrested for statutory rape.

Her father had confronted the boyfriend, Bruno Santos, in his home three days before the murder. Sarah Johnson spent the ensuing days in the family's guesthouse, where prosecutors say she obtained the murder weapon and plotted the crime.

"I have searched and searched and I can find no rational basis why your parents were killed. It just escapes me," Wood said, comparing Johnson to other offenders he sentenced the earlier in the week, all of whom had histories of mental illness, physical or sexual abuse, or substance addiction.

"You had it all — you had a nice house, a loving family, a car, you were on your way to a good education, you had freedom," he said. "Yet you elected the worst possible conduct, the most vile, devastating harsh option, when you had complete freedom to choose any other."

'Right decision'

During the sentencing hearing, a host of family members took the stand to ask the judge to send Johnson to prison for life without parole.

"I would like to see the maximum sentence because after tomorrow, I don't ever want to have to hear about her or this event again," her 24-year-old brother, Matt Johnson, told the court.

They also expressed fear of retribution.

"This sentence benefits society, not just us," Johnson's aunt, Linda Vavold, said after the proceedings. "Anyone in a relationship with Sarah is at risk, so now the community is safe."

"I feel confident the right decision was made, for my family's safety and for Matt's safety," said Marguerite Sowersby, a close friend of the Johnsons who testified during the trial.

Diane Johnson was shot in the head at point-blank range in her sleep at about 6:20 a.m. Moments later, Alan Johnson was shot in the lung as he exited the shower and stumbled out of the bathroom to his wife's bedside.

Wood said that Johnson had a chance to abandon her plan after shooting her mother.

"You could have said, 'My God, what did I do? I'm out of here,' but that didn't happen. You proceeded further," he said.

Wood also referred to the testimony of a neighbor who said she heard a scream in between the gunshots.

"Presumably, you and your father had some communication. It's undeniable you had to look him in the eyes when you shot him," Wood said.

Under Idaho law, first-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, with a minimum of 10 years before a defendant is eligible for parole. Wood had wide discretion in deciding if and when she would be eligible for parole.

Blaine County prosecutor Jim Thomas said he was satisfied with the sentence.

"Given his analysis of the aggravating factors, the judge was left with no other choice," he said.

In a statement to the court early Thursday, Thomas argued Johnson was a threat to society considering the unprovoked and unpredictable nature of the crime.

"If Sarah Johnson lacks a mental defect that would lead her to kill her parents, then we have to ask: Does Sarah Johnson have a propensity to kill others?" he posited. "This senseless act of violence gives us real insight into who Sarah Johnson really is."

In closing, the prosecution asked the court to focus on the victims. "This court has allowed the defendant to be portrayed as the victim, but the real victims have largely been ignored aside from being the object of Sarah's rage," Thomas said.

"Their only real error was giving Sarah Johnson too much love and too much freedom," he said.