Reporting Bud Gillett
Dallas County prosecutors want the death penalty for Matthew Johnson for the way he killed 76-year-old Nancy Harris by setting her on fire. A jury yesterday convicted him of robbing Harris and burning her alive. Prosecutors argue he’s a continuing threat to society, and brought in witness after witness to back up the claim.
“I was crying and crying and really frightened,” said a woman victimized by Johnson for another crime almost ten years ago. The court asked reporters not to identify a Spanish-speaking woman who was carjacked by Johnson. He was convicted and went to prison. Through a translator she told how he approached her early on a Saturday morning in 2004 and leaned into her truck to get control of it.
“He took the key(s) from my finger and took them away from me,” she said. She tried to block him with her body, she testified, but he was too big. “He grabbed me from here and threw me in the yard.”
Johnson was arrested minutes later. One of the officers remembered that as they were chasing Johnson, he yelled for them to just shoot him.
Matthew St. Clair recalled, “I do remember him saying, ‘Put a bullet in my head.’ I remember hearing him yelling that as he was running down the street.”
St. Clair was among a string of police officers who testified they had confronted Johnson over the years. Crimes ranging from drug use, to evading police and resisting arrest, robbery, parole violations… and physical confrontations with women, including his wife and an old girlfriend.
“We would argue and he would put his hands on me,” Amy Armstrong Franks testified. Johnson lived with her and her three youngsters 20-years ago in Dallas. She said their arguments sometime came to blows, including one incident in particular.
“I was really upset because he had hit me and I was holding my two-year-old daughter and she caught the back part of his hand. And then that’s when he left and I locked him out.”
But according to Franks that wasn’t the end of it. She claims he returned and set her patio on fire…and she responded by trying to shoot him with his own gun. She missed.
Johnson’s attorneys still haven’t been able to present their case to jurors to argue Johnson deserves life in prison and not the death penalty. No indication whether he will take the stand in his own defense—so far he has not. Prosecutors are expected to wrap up testimony on Friday; the defense gets its turn Monday.