FROM THE LOGAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NORTHERN DISTRICT [NO.
42PCR-14-31] HONORABLE JERRY D. RAMEY, JUDGE
Knutson Law Firm, by: Gregg A. Knutson, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brad Newman, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
D. VAUGHT, Judge
Joshua John Johnson appeals his conviction by a Logan County
jury of first-degree murder. On appeal, Johnson argues that
the trial court erred by (1) admitting a blood sample and
resultant lab report, (2) refusing to instruct the jury on
manslaughter, and (3) refusing to exclude the victim's
mother from the courtroom during the testimony of other
witnesses. We disagree and affirm.
undisputed that on March 19, 2014, Johnson went to his
ex-wife Lora Karras's home, and when she came outside to
see what he wanted, he shot her with a shotgun. When Johnson
saw that Karras was still alive, he shot her again in the
head, killing her. At trial, Johnson asserted the defense of
mental disease or defect, presenting evidence that he
suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting
from his military service in Iraq and Afghanistan and that he
also suffered from depression and alcohol abuse.
outset of the trial, Johnson's counsel asked the court to
invoke Rule 615 of the Arkansas Rules of Evidence, commonly
known as "the rule, " to exclude the victim's
parents, Pam and Scott Boone, from the courtroom because they
had both been subpoenaed to testify. The court instituted the
rule but exempted the Boones as the victim's closest
relatives, allowing them to remain in the courtroom to view
sample, taken from Johnson on the day of the shooting, was
initially misplaced by police but was located eight days
later in the police station and sent to the state crime lab
for testing. Johnson filed a pretrial motion to suppress all
evidence relating to the blood sample and the resulting lab
result, arguing that the State could not adequately establish
chain of custody and that the sample had not been
refrigerated for eight days prior to testing, which made the
results unreliable. The court denied the motion to suppress
but cautioned the State that it would be required to lay an
adequate foundation for the evidence at trial. At trial,
several witnesses testified about how the sample had been
obtained from Johnson, how it had been misplaced, and how it
had then been found eight days later. The evidence showed
that officers had removed two test kits, used one to take
Johnson's blood, and then erroneously placed the used kit
back on the shelf in the breathalyzer room, where unused
blood-test kits are stored. Don Riddle, a forensic
toxicologist employed by the state crime lab, testified that
he had tested the blood sample and that it contained a
blood-alcohol content of .19 percent. Riddle also testified
that lack of refrigeration for eight days would have had only
a miniscule effect on the blood-alcohol content of the
sample, increasing it by .01 or .02 percent at most. The
court then asked defense counsel if Riddle's testimony
"satisfied [his] concerns for this issue, " to
which defense counsel replied, "It does, Your
Honor." Riddle's report was entered into evidence
brother, Fred Johnson, testified that he had been living with
Karras, her husband, Robert Karras, and her children at the
time of the shooting. Fred testified that he saw Johnson
drive up to the home, get out of the car with a gun, and
shoot Karras. Fred stated that Johnson looked intoxicated.
Fred testified that Johnson told him to get out of the house,
so Fred took the children and fled to a neighbor's home.
The three children testified to the same, except that
Johnson's son said that he had not seen or heard the
shooting because he was in his bedroom at the time.
wife at the time of the shooting (they had divorced by the
time of trial), Jennifer Johnson, testified that, prior to
the shooting, Johnson had been drinking and they had gotten
into an argument. Jennifer testified that she told Johnson
she was leaving and that he helped her pack her car. Jennifer
also testified that Johnson suffered from PTSD, that he had
been suicidal, and that she had taken him to the hospital the
prior November because she feared he would kill himself. She
had also asked the police to do a welfare check on Johnson on
more than one occasion because she was afraid that he would
harm himself. She testified that Johnson had developed
depression after his last deployment.
Chambers, an investigator with the Logan County Sheriff's
Office, testified that she and other officers executed a
search warrant for Johnson's home, where they discovered
a 12-gauge shotgun, 56 shotgun shells, and an empty six-pack
of an unspecified alcoholic beverage. Adam Craig, an
associate medical examiner, testified that Karras's cause
of death was homicide caused by shotgun wounds to her head,
back, and left forearm. The State rested, and Johnson moved
for directed verdict, which the court denied.
first witness, the defense called Pam Boone. She testified
that she is Karras's mother and explained Karras's
marital history. She explained that Johnson and Karras's
first child had been born when they were teenagers, that they
were married when Karras was eighteen, and that after they
divorced Karras married Thomas Capo in 2008 while Johnson was
deployed. After Karras and Capo divorced, Karras discovered
that Capo had sexually abused her oldest child, and Capo was
ultimately convicted of an unspecified criminal offense
stemming from the abuse. Karras then married Robert Karras.
Boone testified that although they were still married at the
time of Karras's death, the couple had not been living
together. She testified that Johnson had, while home from
deployment, spent the night with Boone and her husband in
order to have visitation with his children.
Matthew Fabian testified that Johnson suffered from PTSD,
depression, and an alcohol-abuse disorder. The State's
expert witness, Dr. Mark Peacock, disagreed, opining that
Johnson killed Karras due to voluntary intoxication from
alcohol, which is not a cognizable defense to murder. Dr.
Lacey Willet Matthews also testified for the State and agreed
with Peacock's assessment.
witnesses who had served with Johnson in Iraq and Afghanistan
testified about certain events that Johnson had experienced,
such as bombings and attacks, as well as the day-to-day
stresses of their work. They also testified as to ...