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Prosecutors: Accused Garland Clerk Killer Led Violent Life

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
Bud is the most veteran reporter at CBS 11 News with 42 years in m...
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Matthew Johnson was convicted of setting a store clerk on fire during a robbery. (credit: Garland Police Department)

Matthew Johnson was convicted of setting a store clerk on fire during a robbery. (credit: Garland Police Department)

GARLAND (CBS 11 NEWS) - Prosecutors have rested their case in the punishment phase of the capital murder trial of Matthew Johnson. He was convicted Wednesday robbing and killing a store clerk by setting her on fire. The defense on Monday finally gets a chance to undo two days of testimony designed to cost Matthew Johnson his life.

According to prosecutors, Matthew Johnson has hurt people — lovers and strangers — for more than 20 years. Today a Garland police officer testified about his first brush with Johnson back in 1994. He says Johnson severely bit him and a fellow officer when they arrested him on outstanding warrants. “It was a pretty good struggle,” Officer Mark Mendoza testified. “We wound up wrestling on the ground… he bit me on the arm.” Mendoza said he ran into Johnson again last year when Johnson was a suspect in a sexual assault case but was never charged.

Other witnesses told of Johnson’s drug abuse. A social worker from a local hospital described how on one occasion Johnson was highly combative and had to be held down with a body net.

And a former employer said Johnson was a good worker back in 2011, even earning the trust of knowing a safe combination. Until one day David Contente got a call from Johnson at home early one morning, so he dialed up security video from home. Contente owns a Kwik Car Oil & Lube Center. Contente recalled, “He said, “I did a bad thing,” so I did what I could to investigate what’s going on and I wanted to look at those cameras.”

What the cameras showed was Johnson opening a company safe, taking $2,100 worth of car inspection stickers and $325 in cash. Six months later he would be seen on different surveillance video. This time robbing 76-year-old Nancy Harris; then setting her on fire. She died days later. Johnson’s attorneys are expected to argue he did not intend to kill her, as Catherine Bernhard offered in her opening arguments Thursday.

“At the end of the day you’re going to find that Matthew Lee Johnson does not have any of the characteristics that are going to make him a threat to society in the future.”

His attorneys are not saying if Johnson will take the stand in his own defense. He has not so far. The defense case could run several days.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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