DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The punishment phase began on Thursday in the trial of the man convicted of killing an elderly convenience store clerk. A jury in Dallas found Matthew Johnson guilty of murder on Wednesday. Now, he could face the death penalty.
The defendant did not deny entering the convenience store, but Johnson’s attorney said that he did not intend to kill the victim. The jury did not believe that argument. Johnson was convicted of killing 76-year-old Nancy Harris. She was a clerk at a Garland convenience store in May of last year, when Johnson walked inside.
The victim’s family members hugged each other after the guilty verdict was read.
Prosecutors said that Johnson robbed the store, stole a ring from Harris, and then set the victim on fire. She died five days later.
The defendant’s attorney explained, during his closing arguments, that Johnson did not intend to kill anybody. He was only trying to rob the store. “If it was his specific intent to kill her,” said defense attorney Kenneth Weatherspoon, “why would he leave her walking and talking?”
However, prosecutors argued that store surveillance video of the crime told a different story. “Look, there’s a bottle in his hand as he walks in the store,” said prosecutor Rocky Jones. “You know his intent the minute he graces the threshold of Mrs. Harris’ door.”
Johnson did not take the witness stand during the trial, but it is possible that he will testify during the penalty phase which started Thursday morning. Johnson is facing capital punishment.
Prosecutors told the jury to base their decision on the evidence, and not on sympathy for the victim. “Every one of you told us you support the death penalty in the appropriate case,” said prosecutor Andrea Moseley, “and we anticipate, in the end of this trial, you will see that this is in fact an appropriate case for the death sentence.”
The defendant’s ex-girlfriend testified Thursday morning about a domestic abuse incident that allegedly occurred when they were together in 1993. Amy Heather Franks said that Johnson hit her and her 1-year-old daughter, and set her backyard patio on fire. The witness told the jury that she has a mental illness and was an alcoholic and drug abuser at that time. She left Johnson after that alleged incident.
The defense told jurors that Johnson has been married for 20 years and has three daughters. He was also previously diagnosed with severe depression and a drug addiction. “At the end of the day, you’re going to find that Matthew Johnson does not have any of the characteristics that are going to make him a threat to society in the future,” stated defense attorney Catherine Bernhard, “and a life sentence will be more than appropriate.”
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