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Johnson faces more charges

September 6, 2008
The Daily News


Staff Writer

MARINETTE, Wis, - Seven additional charges were filed against Scott J. Johnson in Marinette County Circuit Court Friday.

Article Photos

Wearing civilian clothing, Johnson, 38, appeared by video conferencing with his attorney and entered a not guilty plea by reason of mental disease or defect to the 10 felony charges.

Johnson is charged with three first-degree intentional homicides in a July 31 shooting rampage that killed three teenage swimmers at the East Kingsford train bridge at the Menominee River.

Johnson, of Kingsford, also faces six counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide by use of a dangerous weapon and one count of second degree sexual assault.

The seven additional charges were filed in Marinette County Court late Thursday.

During the arraignment Friday, Judge Tim Duket set a hearing for Wednesday, Sept. 10, at 2 p.m. This is being held so District Attorney Brent DeBord, Assistant District Attorney General Gary Freyberg and defense attorney Leonard Kachinsky can submit a list of mental health doctors that will examine Johnson.

This hearing will also be held via video conference, afterwhich the judge will pick two experts.

With the insanity pleas, Johnson will have to prove to a jury through medical experts that he didn't know right from wrong in the crimes because he suffered a mental disease or defect and cannot be held responsible for his behavior.

Kachinsky, an Appleton, Wis., attorney, has said Johnson does not have an ''extensive record'' of hospitalization for psychiatric illnesses. But he has a behavior pattern of isolation back in the family home after his divorce that suggests he might have undiagnosed depression, Kachinsky said.

A motion hearing was scheduled for Dec. 9, at 9 a.m., a final pre-trial conference was scheduled for March 9, 2009, at 1 p.m. and a three-week 12-person jury trial has been scheduled to begin on March 16, 2009, at 8:30 a.m.

Kachinsky said he will file a motion for jury selection to be from another area, but the trial could be held in Marinette.

"We would ask time be extended (for jury selection) given the short time I have been on the case, and the nature of the publicity," Kachinsky said.

He said he will be looking for a jury that has heard very little about this case and is open-minded.

Deadline to file a change of venue motion for jury selection is Oct. 15.

DeBord said jury selection with a case like this will be more intricate.

Judge Duket said each side will be entitled to seven pertinence challenges, and two to four additional jurors will be selected. The additional jurors are used if any of the jurors get sick or have a family emergency, which is normal for trials that are more than two weeks long.

As for a change of venue, DeBord said they will have to see the defense attorney's basis for the request.

With Johnson's insanity pleas, there would be two phases. The first would determine whether he was guilty of the crimes.

If found guilty, the trial would then move to a second phase, the insanity evidence.

If found mentally inadequate, he would be sent to a mental hospital until doctors determined he was safe to be released into society.

If he is found sane and guilty of the charges, he would be sent to prison for life.

Kachinsky said his client is adapting to jail life.

"He is not as nearly frightened or disoriented as he was at first. He is quite realistic with the outcome," Kachinsky said about his client.

The original criminal complaint characterizes Johnson as a disaffected man who had thought about committing a random shooting for four or five years.

Johnson told investigators he stashed weapons in the woods at least a year ago in preparation.

Johnson's mother, Judy Johnson, has said her son was honorably discharged from the Army in 1994 without serving overseas and has been unemployed.

She described him as despondent since his wife left him in 2001 and took their two children with her.

The spark that set off the shooting rampage was a sexual assault that Johnson allegedly told to police. Johnson lured a 24-year-old Kingsford woman near the East Kingsford Train Bridge and attacked her, later trying to talk her out of calling police, the complaint said.

The attack was part of his plot to kill as many police officers as he could, Johnson told investigators.

In an interview following the arraignment, Kachinsky said the final decision for his client to plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect was made before the court hearing. Approximately 15 of the victims' family members were present in the courtroom during the arraignment.

Kachinsky said appearing by video for his client is a lot more convenient, secure and allows him to meet right away and talk in confidence with his client in a room at the jail.

"Except for witnesses testifying, he prefers to appear by video," Kachinsky said.

It is up to the judge and sheriff's department to decide if Johnson appears for future court proceedings by video or in person.

Authorities said they have reason to believe Johnson opened fire on a group of teens swimming in the Menominee River earlier this summer, killing Tiffany Pohlson, 17, of Norway, and Anthony Spigarelli, 18, and Bryan Mort, 19, both of Iron Mountain.

Investigators say Johnson fired about 17 shots from a rifle and is now accused of trying to kill Katrina Coates, Derek Barnes, Daniel Gordon, Kevin Johnson, Jonathan McClure and Christopher Martinson, who were also at the river, according to an amended criminal complaint filed in Marinette County Circuit Court.

Investigators said only one other person was hurt in the shooting - Gordon, 20, of Kingsford, who suffered a superficial shrapnel wound in his back.

The sexual assault charge involves a woman in an incident July 30.

It alleges Johnson had ''sexual contact'' with her by ''use or threat of force or violence,'' the complaint said.

DeBord said he felt it was justice for all the victims to pursue the other seven charges.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin is no longer pursuing federal charges against Johnson. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan is looking at the case carefully and has not yet announced whether or not what charges, if any, will be filed.

If Johnson is charged at the federal level, Kachinsky said he would not represent him for those charges. Johnson would be represented by a federal representative.

Freyberg said the 10 felony charges filed were what he and DeBord felt were appropriate regardless of what federal authorities do.

"Right now, we have filed the charges we think are appropriate," Freyberg said. It was noted in an interview with DeBord and Freyberg Friday after the arraignment that they have experience in dealing with insanity pleas.

Kachinsky said Friday he had expected some of the additional charges to be filed.

''Some of those they may not be able to prove specific intent,'' he said.

Kachinsky said his understanding is the others identified are individuals who were near the individuals who were shot and killed.

"I would assume the state's theory is that he may have intended to kill them and missed," he said.

The mandatory punishment for first-degree intentional homicide is life in prison. The maximum punishment for attempted intentional homicide is 60 years in prison and the maximum punishment for second-degree sexual assault charge is 40 years in prison.

Johnson could face a total of 295 years of initial confinement in prison and 135 years extended supervision.

DeBord reminds the public that under the American system of justice a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Lisa M. Hoffmann's e-mail address is



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