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  • Adult Time for Adult Crime: Sarah Johnson

    On November 9th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences. In preparation for oral arguments, JLWOP: Faces & Cases will be an on-going series on The Foundry that will tell real stories about juvenile offenders who are currently serving LWOP sentences.

    Defendant: Sarah Johnson (16)
    Victims: Alan and Diane Johnson
    Crimes: Two counts, first degree felony murder
    Crime date: September 2, 2003 in Bellevue, Idaho

    Summary
    Using a hunting rifle, Sarah Johnson killed her parents after they grounded her for attempting to spend the night with her older boyfriend. She shot her sleeping mother in the head and her father as he stepped out of the shower.

    Facts
    Alan and Diana Johnson lived in the small town of Bellevue, Idaho. Alan was a co-owner of a successful landscaping company, and Diana worked for a financial firm. They had a son, a daughter, and a nice house on a spacious two-acre parcel of land.

    Their daughter Sarah Johnson attended Wood River High School. She fell in love with 19-year-old Bruno Santos, a former high school classmate and illegal alien who had had brushes with the law and was rumored to be involved with illegal drugs.

    One Friday, Johnson told her parents that she was going to spend the night at a friend’s house. Her mother called the friend’s house and discovered that Sarah was not there. The parents guessed that their daughter was most likely with Santos.

    Alan Johnson drove over to Santos’s house and found his daughter there. He spoke with Santos’s mother and then drove his daughter home. He grounded her for the weekend.

    Just after 6 a.m. on September 2, 2003, a few days after she had been grounded, Sarah Johnson entered her parents’ bedroom armed with a Winchester .264 Magnum rifle. Her father was in the shower, and her mother was still asleep. Johnson placed the end of the rifle on her mother’s head and pulled the trigger. She then walked toward the master bathroom and saw her father coming out of the shower. She shot him once through the chest at a distance of about three feet.

    Alan fell to the floor and then stood and walked toward the side of the bed where his wife usually slept. He felt for her and then collapsed. Neighbors who heard the gunshots called 911. Sarah Johnson exited the house and ran down the street, screaming that someone had shot her parents.

    While Sarah Johnson told police a number of different stories about what she witnessed the morning of the murders, the evidence against her was overwhelming. There had been no forced entry to the home. Crime scene officers found a pink robe in the trash, inside of which they found a leather glove and a latex glove. Tests of the robe revealed biological material from the defendant and her parents. Testing of the leather glove revealed gunshot residue, and Sarah Johnson’s DNA was found inside the latex glove. The matching leather glove was found in Sarah’s bedroom, and the rifle was found in the master bedroom. The Winchester rifle was usually stored in the family’s guest house, where Sarah had spent the weekend after being grounded.

    According to prosecutors, Johnson committed the murders because she was fearful that her parents were going to turn in Santos for statutory rape and have him deported. There was additional evidence that the defendant murdered her parents to get their money so that she and Santos could go away together.

    Charles D. Stimson is Senior Legal Fellow and Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    57 Responses to Adult Time for Adult Crime: Sarah Johnson

    1. Gannonator says:

      Life without parole is too easy. Give her the real adult penalty she deserves, which is the death penalty. Her parents murder deserves as much.

      As long as we keep alive cold blooded murderers, no matter their age, we lessen the value of human life in our society.

    2. Freedom of Speech, T says:

      You could print examples of these "kids" for years and not cover all of them.

      The truth is – some people are crazy.

    3. Kathy Smith, Toledo says:

      I don't want a person like this back in society – ever. She is where she belongs.

    4. Mike Dodson, Midland says:

      I feel so sorry for the parents and for the surviving son. I cannot find it in my heart to feel the slightest amount of sympathy for Sarah — I hope her time in jail will be onerous. Someone with the sort of mindset that will allow them to kill their parents should never be allowed to be a part of society — she should serve for life without parole.

    5. patricia, VA says:

      I think she should be put out of her misery, and out of the undeserved care of tax payers. Put her to death.

    6. Jerry from Chicago says:

      No matter how heinous the crime, there are always going to be the bleeding hearts out there who will feel sorry for these juvinile killers. Oh sure, they will pay lip service empathy to the dead victims, but they will always see the juvinile killers as the remaining victim.

      In their minds, there nothing to be done about the dead except to bury the remains and move on. Move on to feel sorry for the remaining "victim", the juvinile murderer. Yes, they will agree, the juvinile murderers made a terrible "mistake", but they were young. The mantra of the bleeding hearts is "hate the sin, love the sinner".

      No matter what, the bleeding hearts will always be with us.

    7. philip says:

      No mercy for for anyone like Sarah or her kind nor should they be allowed to be free. She and her type are cold blooded killers and deserve to pay with their lives, and not returned to society ware they could take the life of some else. These people never even gave their victems a trial. Make them pay the price

    8. Marisa, Pennsylvania says:

      Cold blooded killers should get the death penalty. Period.

      • Bibi says:

        I agree this is one of the worst crimes I've heard of, however, the death penalty is controversial, I think no human being should kill a fellow human, sometimes innocent people get convicted wrongfully. And if I were to go to jail I would rather die than serve life and deal with the voices in my mind thinking should of, could of, would of… That's more painful. The worst kind of evil comes from people without love in their hearts. Time is the most powerful penitence. Human beings can be the best animals of all species. And at the same time the worst of all. In this story the lesson I learned is don't have guns at home!!! It's asking for trouble.

    9. Bobbie Jay says:

      The conflict is parental upbringing and the indoctrination of socialization of the GOVERNMENT RUN SCHOOLS. Children lose any conscience they may have had as public/government indoctrination infiltrates their minds and actions. Parents become nothing to the child. This child lost her recognition of human value. exactly how the government of this country is treating life. If the government would've enforced the law, this illegal wouldn't have entered her life. Parental upbringing (for the most part) teaches children to learn to deal with problems, instead of government's indoctrination of killing off your problems. For any intentional killing of life at any age, should be death. Maybe child killers with rifles will think twice…

    10. E Fresquez says:

      I don't normally say this, but as a young man of eighteen I was sentence to prison for crimes against other people. While there friends that I grew up with, three different groups of kids committed murder. They were sentenced to life, two were fourteen and three were sixteen. This was back in the fifties and it was an act of violence and know one questioned should we sentence them to prison. We know the penalty for our crimes and I mean all of us. There wasn't anyone trying to find out should we give adult sentence to minors who commit adult crimes. Like in all situations, you play you pay. I have been free of crime and illegal behaviors for the past thirty nine years. Did I learn, I am free.

    11. Ross writes from Bra says:

      Another "sick puppy" probably de-sensitized by watching (guessing all of her life) too much unhealthy tv and horror/crime movies.

      This case is as premeditated murder as one can get. Death penalty, why not. By the time she goes through the appeal process, she should be in her mid-30's. What ever the verdict then, she does not and should not be released back to society.

    12. Guy, South Carolina says:

      This kind of illicit social situation cannot be resolved (in the future) by electing liberals to our Congresses. If we Americans don't get our heads from our butts and start electing conservatives, who will at least attempt to bring some sanity into our public schools, then we can count on creating many more of these mindless child-killers. A couple of generations have been lost because liberal politicians have led our children (via public education) through the doors and into a hell of immature thought processing. Unfortunately, it appears this young lady deserves the ultimate penalty. It is disgusting.

      • Bibi says:

        It's not just an issue of liberals and conservatives politics. It's human kind and it's core essence. There are sick people every where in the world. But guns at home do not make the situation any better! And yes we have to raise our children to be conscious of a world outside. Children now days are raised to think the world revolves around them. They grow up to be selfish. Just watch the super nanny or nanny 911. discipline and limits is as important as love and respect. Nothing shocks me more than the way american kids especially, talk back at their parents. In order for things not to get out of control with teenagers, you have to start early when their very young. Listen to your kids when they are little and most likely they will still listen when they grow up.

    13. Carol, AZ says:

      What a horric story .

      Idaho may want to consider enforcing it's illegal immigration laws as well.

      Brushes with the law? I wonder ?

    14. Heather, Maryland says:

      I don't support the death penalty in its current form, but only because of the financial drain on the system, not because it isn't appropriate. The punishment for any offence should fit the crime regardless of the offenders age. In this case a life (in prison) for a life.

    15. Mike Winsauer, Kings says:

      A cold blooded killer wrapped up to look like a teenage daughter. This is an evil person…..PERIOD! She chose to kill her parents, the people who bore and raised her sorry self. Whether or not the illegal alien influenced her to do it, she made the choice. She should die for her crimes!

      Some goofy liberal leaning bleeding heart may want to make an excuse for her and marginalize her dead parents. Wonder if that same person would volunteer to let her live in their house and play nanny to their kids……..probably not…..but they would fight to let her live with someone else.

      • Marion says:

        Would I let her live in my house? Yes, under the right circumstances. Nanny to my kids? Never.

    16. Donna Shepherd, Ohio says:

      These so-called "children" are considered old enough to commit murder for inconvenient pregnancies with no thought of it being immoral or wrong so I guess they carry that way of thinking to anyone or anything that gets in the way of what they want. The public school system and government sponsered programs foster these ideas in them. Therefore when a parent has the audacity to get in the way, simply eliminate them. Thanks a lot social enginering teachers and a liberal govt. that teaches young people there should be no reason they can't do what it takes to get their way. You can be sure a lawyer will try to make Sarah the victim of evil parents for trying to teach them differently. I firmly believe in an eye for an eye when it comes to these situations; if she could plan and carry out two coldblooded murders, the public should find she is more tha capable of paying the price, regardless of her age.

    17. Marty, MD says:

      If you think that these kids don't know the laws you are kidding yourself – they are system beaters – a whole generation of them in our pubic education system in urban settings – no morals, values or ethics becasue their parents are looking ahead for their next free perk themselves. Hey – why not have a parent stay home and raise a child – give up that lifestyle that you cannot afford anyway. That will solve the unemployment problem too!

    18. Charles Hatcher, El says:

      At what age do we learn the difference between right and wrong? For most of us, our basic morals have been established and only need fine tuning by the time we are 6 or 7 years old. A crime of this magnitude, she obviously was aware of the ramifications of what she was doing when she committed it. By constructing her web of lies she basically confessed to being knowledgeable that her actions were against the law of man and god. This child deserves at the very least life in prison without the possibility of parole and debateably she deserves the death penalty.

    19. robbie, tulsa ok. says:

      so many of u get it. i am so proud. when u take god out of school and replace him with social concepts of for the good of all instead of morality. individual rights are abolished. her parents rights of life, in her mind, were none and she had the right to do whatever made her feel good. these are the lessons that are taught in the progressive enviorment. they may say its not what they intended but when u take morals and god and family out of the equation, what else do u get?

    20. Sara, VA says:

      Thank you for publishing these stories. Hopefully, they will help illuminate. Evil people often have really good parents. It is too easy and wrong to blame the parents of sociopaths.

    21. Frank Hartry, South says:

      As the judge said, her parents were trying to protect her. Although only 16 at the time she knew full well that what she was doing was wrong. The fact that she is denying that she committed the crime, is proof that she knew what she was doing. The death penalty should have been sought and applied for this evil crime.

    22. sarah johnson AZ says:

      i guess love makes u do crazy things…

    23. Brenda says:

      Where was the boyfriend,,,? where was the investigation? I smell a rat!! What kind of police do they have up there?

      Why are the family not trying to find out the real killer?

      She needed a better attorney.

    24. Paul M says:

      To Brenda who wrote:

      Where was the boyfriend,,,? where was the investigation? I smell a rat!! What kind of police do they have up there?

      Why are the family not trying to find out the real killer?

      She needed a better attorney.

      You are obviously a sick individual. 'They' have the real killer, and she deserved the death penalty. People like her should not be allowed to breath our air and use our resources

    25. karen Stickney says:

      There are many other teenage girls in Sarah's situation who did not kill their parents because of this fear. If they thought about doing it, they snapped back to reality. Sarah did not. She probably also listened to a lot of artists like Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, Kittie, Arch Enemy, or many bands of this nature like the Columbine kids' murderers were blamed on. She's nothing but a lying murderer, which is the title of a song I wrote about her. WHAT AN IDIOT!!!!!

      • Ryan J says:

        She listened to stuff like birttany spears. Not a gothic person at all.

      • Marion says:

        Okay… I listen to bands like Cannibal Corpse, Marilyn Manson, Anorexia Nervosa and Kittie. Believe it or not they do help me mellow out and relax. I was in a similar situation to Sarah Johnson when I was her age. I won't say I didn't think about killing my parents, but if thoughts were criminal, I think most of the population save a couple of stray nuns would be in jail by now. Yes, I used a lot of sneaky underhand tactics, but no violence.

    26. L H TX says:

      Murder goes all the way back to the first 2 children Cain and Abel.

      Remember it is human to err and Devine to forgive.

    27. karen Stickney says:

      Bruno's age isn't that big a deal. They were just three years apart. Three years! So what? His drug use and exploitation are more important than his age. At least he wasn't old enough to be Alan's age. Then, that would be too old for her. And, the girls in the Third World countries get married off to men that are much older than he is. And in the "Twilight" story, Edward and Bella were a hundred years apart. That is extremely old! Diane and Alan were six years apart, yet they complained about Bruno's age? What hypocrites.

      • Marion says:

        Okay. When I was sixteen, I dated a twenty one year old. I can tell you now that it didn't last. The reason it didn't last was because although the man concerned was an incredibly intelligent individual and five years older than me, he didn't behave like it. He should have been the one to say, "We shouldn't be doing this". Instead, he led the way into bad behaviour. Worse than that, he dumped me by text and then said it was my fault, contributing to my depression. As for Diane and Alan: They were mature adults. Edward and Bella are a fictitious fairytale. Girls in the middle east are from an entirely different culture and from one that we wouldn't necessarily agree with. If I were the parent, I would probably have overlooked his age. However, as the older person in the relationship, he needed to set a good example for Sarah and he didn't do that with his drug use and gang activity so he had no business being anywhere near her.

    28. Karen Stickney says:

      There are millions of teenage girls out there in Sarah's situation, but they knew better than to kill the ones who warned them about the bad boyfriends. You're probably going to blame the music she listens to as well. You might think that she listened to bands like Slipknot, Marilyn Manson (who was blamed for the Columbine shootings), Kittie, Arch Enemy, Insane Clown Posse, and the like. Maybe, but that's not going to make somebody kill. If she was a boy, would you be saying the same thing since the crime she committed is typically committed by boys? Bruno may have been a catalyist to the crime, but he didn't kill them and frame Sarah, or conspire with Sarah to do this or tell Sarah to do it. She did this on her own. You're not going to want to read the history books now, because the narrator on E's "To Young To Kill" list said that she made it there because she's the only minor female to kill both parents by herself. She did the exact same thing Lizzie Borden did in the 1890s, and none of the bands I listed existed back then. There is a place in hell for her right next to Lizzie Borden. I saw this movie "Dante's Inferno" and one of the portals of Hell had paricide killers, and Lizzie, like Sarah, denied committing her crime.

    29. karen stickney says:

      I read that people on death row sometimes have to wait years before they are executed for their crimes. Sometimes they die in prison while waiting to be executed. If Sarah Johnson did get the death penalty like some of you posters here want, she probably would have to wait years before she is executed for murdering her parents, and she would still be sitting in jail waiting forever before she dies. Think about it.

    30. todd connecticut says:

      I dont think sarah johnson killed her parents, because they have no hard evidence that she did this there are no finger prints on the weapon I hope she gets out jail very soon I feel so bad for her at the age 16 and they still cant prove she did this god bless you sarah

      • Marion says:

        An interesting case. We have a similar case here in New Zealand. In 1994, a man called David Bain was put on trial for killing his entire family. He got sixteen years (would have got more today). In 2007 he got a retrial and was found not guilty. This was because the fingerprints of his that were found on the weapon were not proven to be from the time of the incident (they could have been from when he went hunting). Also, blood around the house could have been from when he stumbled into things as he said he became disoriented. His brother Stephen's sweater fibres were found under his fingernails. They could be explained by him panicking and shaking his brother.

    31. karen Stickney says:

      Her DNA was on the gloves. She was the only one of the suspected people who had motive to kill her parents. How much more proof do you need? I had read that the bed sheet had protected her mother and that may be why there was no blood on her, or that she cleaned up before she ran for help. LIzzie Borden was found innocent for murdering her parents, so even if she does get out of jail, she may get ostracized by her town like Lizzie did. You may feel bad for her, but everyone who believes she did it won't be felling that way. Or are you just believing her story that an intruder had killed them like she said when this case appeared on the show "Solved"?

      • Marion says:

        Bruno had suspected gang connections. The parents had threatened to report him for sex with a minor, and that would have got him reported. Her DNA on the gloves could have come from a previous occasion when she wore the gloves. The bed sheet wouldn't totally protect her mother, as she was shot in the head.

    32. karen stickney, Aubu says:

      That is only if they're unrepentant. If they are repentant, they should be forgiven. Josh Phillips and Eric Smith, some other killers that appeared on E's "Too Young To Kill" list with Sarah, are repentant for killing their victims, but society thinks they are cold-blooded. They say they've changed and that they're sorry, but society only sees them as killers. Killers can be repentant. Not all of them are unrepetentant. True, they murdered, but society needs to see if they are willing to change while they're in prison or on death row. Simple as that.

    33. nacy, LA Calafornia says:

      This is a very interesting story, but did she have the death punishment,kill herself, in jail, or still alive out in the open?

    34. Sarah Atlanta, Georg says:

      I cant believe a 16 year old would do this? Is she in jail or not….

    35. karen Stickney says:

      To all of you people who think Sarah is innocent, answer these questions. 1) Why did she lie to the police about their murders? 2) Why didn't she hide when they put her parents' bodies in body bags? 3) Why didn't she show any concern over their deaths, like prosecutor Jim Thomas said when her case appeared on E's "Too Young To Kill" list? 4) What was she really thinking about when she spent the weekend either in her room (according to "Snapped') or in the family's guesthouse (according to E's "Too Young To Kill" list and other sources) brooding? 5) Why was she more concerned about her hair and nail appointments than their deaths?

    36. karen Stickney says:

      Actually, I heard that Sarah Johnson didn't get the death penalty because she was a minor when she committed the crime. If she had been overage like Lizzie Borden was, she might have gotten the death penalty like you posters who think she deserves it wanted her to.

    37. karen Stickney says:

      To add to my other comment, Nikki Reynolds, another juvenile killer, immediately regretted killing her mother after she had done it and said she was sorry for doing it and started praying to God after she was arrested for it. At her trial when she spoke, she was willing to ask the court and God for forgiveness. Although she didn't appear on E's "Too Young To Kill" list, she's another example of a repentant killer.

    38. karen Stickney says:

      About this Christopher Hill. If he had killed Alan and Diane, what would have been his motive? What did he use Mel's gun for before the murders occurred?

    39. Marion, New Zealand says:

      I read an article saying the parents should have listened to her. Let me tell you,, I am a very lenient person when it comes to dating, and I wouldn't let my kids anywhere near a drug dealer. That aside, what I think was lacking in this case was education. I don't think someone just is born a monster, We need to learn from this case. Not making excuses for Sarah Johnson or anything, but had her parents or even her brother just sat down and talked with her about inappropriate sexual behaviour, and the types of people you didn't want to get involved with and why, long before she'd even met Bruno, then perhaps she wouldn't even have given him a second look.

      • teachermom7 says:

        I am not saying I have sympathy for Sarah Johnson, but I agree that she should have the opportunity to redeem herself eventually. Looking at her, I see that she is not pretty. Perhaps her need for love and approval, and maybe Santos was the only guy who had ever made her feel attractive – was so powerful that it outweighed everything else in her life and led her to do this horrible act. Do not tear me apart for saying this. I am not saying she is a victim; I am just saying that it may be more comlex than just saying she is evil. At age 40 or so she probably will be a completely different person than she was at 16, and most likely won't be a threat to society. Our justice system is supposed to be just that – a JUSTICE system, not a revenge system.

    40. kim says:

      did sarah johnson take a lie dector test to prove she is not the one who killed her parents i would if i was her who wants to spend the rest of there life in prison

      • Marion says:

        I can see where you are coming from. I think it's a pity that a society as progressive as the US would just throw away children. I was sexually assaulted when I was sixteen. After, there was one older man who made me feel wanted and who didn't treat me like it was my fault. When my parents tried to force me to forget about him, I could not, as he was the only one who made me feel wanted. Perhaps Sarah felt a similar way.

      • marion says:

        This isn't the Maury Povich show. Lie detector tests are hit and miss.

    41. BeenThere says:

      Having grown up with Sarah I can tell you this. She was CRAZY. I dont doubt for 1 sec that she did this. The Boyfriend was questioned and was also givin immunity for story, and later Deported. Again I will say this the moment we found out in our small town that this happened I didnt doubt for a moment that Sarah did this.

    42. Ryan J. says:

      I went to school with Sarah and had choir with her for 2 years. She is not evil. She was a quiet polite shy little girl. I know her neibhors well and have been told that they are not suprised that one of their children killed them. From what I understand Sarah lived in a very strict household with harsh parents. I am sorry that Sarah ended up in a place or mindset that she felt she had to kill her parents. I don't pretend to understand why she did it nor do I think it is so black and white that she deseves to die herself. Two wrongs don't make a right. I wish her parents were still alive but I don't hate her or wish her dead.

      • Marion says:

        I also think it's a pity that this happened in a country where the system believes in throwing children away.

    43. Porchia coleman says:

      I think sarah got what she ask for and she needs to be right were she is at I think she is a very crazy and stupid girl and I feel very sorry for her brother and the rest of her family that have to deal with this but tell you anybody a fool if they let her out of jail but I tell you she brought all this on herself and she need that jail time but I tell you she go regret for what she did forever and I hope she rot in jail for what she to her mom and dad cuse they were the ones trying to help her and save her life and protect her from bad things but they can't now so like what I said like in the bible obey your mom and dad and do what they say

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