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Christopher Johnson

Told His Son, 'You Go See Jesus'

By

Christopher Johnson

Death Row Inmate

Mug Shot
On October 28, 2005, Christopher Thomas Johnson was indicted by an Escambia County, Alabama grand jury on the charge of capital murder for the death of his six-month-old son, Elias Ocean Johnson.

Johnson was appointed two lawyers who entered the plea of not guilty, but immediately after they and the prosecution rested their cases, Johnson decided he wanted to represent himself and wanted the case reopened so that he could testify.

Once the circuit court determined that Johnson knew the consequences and dangers of representing himself and that his decision to do so was voluntary, the court reopened the case.

Johnson then testified that he intentionally murdered his six-month-old infant son because he hated his wife.

In his testimony Johnson told the jury, "The last words I said to my son were, 'You go see Jesus.'"

The jury found him guilty of capital murder.

The Penalty Phase

During the penalty phase of the trial the State submitted that the murder of Elias was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel. Johnson did not present evidence disputing the severity of his crimes and urged the jury to vote for a sentence of death.

The jury agreed, recommending that Johnson be sentenced to death and the judge accepted the recommendation.

Johnson's Appeal

Johnson invoked his right to represent himself on appeal and refused to file an appellate brief. In response, the circuit court held a mandatory hearing to advise Johnson of the disadvantages of representing himself in his appeal and the consequences of not filing the appellate brief.

The court also had to decide if Johnson understood what was being explained and the consequences of his actions.

It was determined that Johnson's decisions were knowing and voluntary and not the result of any coercion, threats, or promises.

This did not end the appeal process for Johnson. Since he was convicted of a capital crime and received a death sentence, his appeal was automatic and the court had to review the entire case, including, according to court records, "his decision to waive his right to file a brief on appeal, the evidence that determined his conviction and the propriety of his sentence of death."

Based on the extensive dialogue between Johnson and the circuit court, it was decided that Johnson understood that he, "not only knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, waived his right to counsel, but also his right to present issues to the court as it reviews his conviction and his sentence of death."

Sufficient Evidence for a Guilty-Plea Conviction

In Alabama when a defendant pleads guilty to a capital offense the state must still prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.

In Johnson's case the appellate court reviewed the facts that had been previously presented including the events that lead up to Johnson murdering Elias, how he did it, the events that occurred after the murder, the autopsy reports and court testimony.

The Evidence

According to Johnson's wife, Dana, on Feb. 20, 2005 at around 1 a.m., she warmed a bottle for Johnson to feed Elias, and then she went to bed.

When she awoke at around 9 a.m. she found Johnson and Elias on the couch. Elias was bruised and he appeared dead and when she was unable to find a pulse she called 9-1-1.

The paramedics testified that Elias appeared dead when they got there, but that they continued to administer CPR until they arrived at the hospital and turned the infant over to the care of Dr. Steven Sharp.

Dr. Sharp testified that the baby seemed to be dead and that the infant had several injuries including several bruises on his face, across his nose and ruptured blood vessels around his eyes and chin. A bite mark was also found on his arm.

Blood was also found in Elias mouth and stomach.

Johnson's Statement to Police

Testimonies from the lead detectives in the investigation into Elias death show that Johnson admitted to lying on top of Elias to stop him from crying. When that failed to work he stuck his fingers down the infant's throat and hit him. He admitted that it was the hardest that he ever hit Elias and took the blame for his death.

He ended his statement by saying he did not think he had seriously injured the child that night.

Autopsy Findings

According to the testimony of the medical examiner that performed the autopsy, Elias suffered 85 separate injuries, including the bite mark on his arm.

His ears were swollen and bruised which could have resulted from a "boxing" blow or/and squeezing. His lip was swollen and bloody and he had multiple bruises on his face and head.

He also suffered three injuries to his forehead including a broken bone in his sinuses and deep contusions on his head which caused his brain to hemorrhage.

Both of Elias' eyes hemorrhaged and there were injuries to his inner lips and nose indicating that he had been smothered in a forceful way.

It was the medical examiner's opinion that Elias was alive during the abuse and that the injuries would have been painful.

Final Decision

It was the court's decision that with the State's evidence and Johnson's own admissions, the only conclusion was that he intentionally murdered a person under the age of 14 and his conviction and sentence of death was upheld.

Johnson is scheduled to be executed on October 20, 2011.

Reference: Christopher Thomas Johnson v. State of Alabama

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