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Jury Gives Death Sentence To Man Who Set Clerk On Fire

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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Matthew Johnson 1

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – A Garland man convicted of robbing and setting a store clerk on fire received the death penalty in a Dallas courtroom Friday.

Matthew Johnson was convicted of capital murder last week in the death of 76-year-old Nancy Harris.  The jury that convicted him believed there were no mitigating circumstances in his crime and that he would remain a threat to society.

“I’ll be there the day the state of Texas straps you to that gurney and sends you to meet your Maker,” one of the victim’s sons, Brian Harris, told Johnson in his victim impact statement.

Nancy Harris’ children and grandchildren poured out their hearts, the sentence allowing them free reign to speak their minds.

Christopher Harris, another son, also read a victim impact statement written by his three children, who were not in court. He read the words from his six-and-a-half year-old, “You are very mean. I don’t like you at all. I love my Mimi [grandmother].”

A second letter was from Christopher Harris’ 10-year-old daughter.  “You are very mean. I don’t like you at all. It was mean what you did,” she wrote.  And finally, from his 11-year-old, “I don’t like what you did. It was really mean. And you did it for no reason at all. I miss my Mimi, and I can never see her again because of you.”

Then Christopher Harris added his own thoughts, with defiance. “You asked for forgiveness. You certainly don’t deserve forgiveness. And I will never forgive you,” he said and concluded, “I hope the screams of my mother tear at your soul for eternity.”

Some jurors were brought to tears by what they heard, moved by emotional statements from Nancy Harris’ granddaughters.  “You are not sorry, nor will you ever be forgiven,” said Shelby Harris adding, “You took her from me, someone I loved so much. I think about her every day. She was worth more than those two packs of cigarettes, that lighter, that candy, and that money,” she said, referring to some of the items Johnson was seen taking during the robbery and murder.

Johnson sat emotionless during both the sentencing and family impact statements. In earlier trial surveillance video he was shown to have doused Nancy Harris with lighter fluid, robbed her of money and a ring, then set her on fire, taking store items on his way out the door.

In earlier testimony, Johnson had asked the jury for forgiveness, saying he was high and drunk at the time, but the victim’s family disagreed.  “You hide behind your drug abuse and depression as though it’s an excuse for what you have done,” said Brianna Harris, another granddaughter.  Then recalling Johnson’s testimony said, “You are no monster, you are not mentally ill, but you are–like you said — a coward. “

Outside the courtroom Scott Harris, another of the victim’s sons, told reporters that the months it took to get to this court decision were hard.  “I’ve never felt justice and closure. We still have sorrow; we’re mourning the loss of our mother.”

Jurors and the Johnson family left without speaking to reporters. But an attorney for Johnson said her client wasn’t surprised at the outcome. “No, it’s something we had talked about a lot and that he honestly expected,” Nancy Mulder told reporters.

Mulder acknowledged that surveillance videos documenting the crime were an obstacle defense attorneys couldn’t overcome.  And on initial viewing they even disturbed her.  “I’ve been doing this for 18 years. It was overwhelming. Truly.”  She said the surveillance video was effective, and the crime and the video’s impact were powerful evidence.   “It was horrible and in my personal opinion it went to show that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time, because it was such a horrific thing.”  She added, “Matthew Johnson has already expressed remorse and sadness over his crimes, and certainly our hearts go out to the Harris family.”

But Scott Harris, the Harris family spokesman, didn’t see it that way.  “He’s sorrowful because he got caught. That’s our opinion.”

Matthew Johnson’s trial and sentence will be appealed, which is required in all Death Penalty cases.

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