The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday, June 7 upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a Logan County man who claimed post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his military service in Iraq and Afghanistan as a defense.
The appeals court affirmed Joshua John Johnson’s conviction in the March 2014 shotgun slaying of his ex-wife, 30-year-old Lora Karras. Johnson did not deny killing Karras but argued he should be found not guilty by reason of a mental disease or defect resulting from PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse.
On the day of the shooting, Johnson went to his ex-wife’s home, and when she came outside to see what he wanted, he shot her with a shotgun. After the first shot, Johnson saw that Karras was still alive and shot her in the head, killing her.
Johnson, now 41, argued on appeal that evidence and testimony about a blood sample that was taken from him on the day of the shooting and showed a blood-alcohol content of 0.19 percent, should not have been admitted at the trial because police misplaced it and left it unrefrigerated for eight days.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals said Wednesday it would not consider that argument. Although Johnson’s lawyer filed an unsuccessful motion to suppress all evidence related to the blood sample in advance of his trial, his lawyer did not object when the evidence was admitted during the trial, effectively waiving Johnson’s right to appeal on that issue, the appeals court said.
Johnson also argued on appeal that the judge should have told the jury it could convict him of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder. Johnson claimed that when he shot his ex-wife he was upset because of a fight with the woman he was married to at the time, as well suffering from PTSD, so he was experiencing an “extreme emotional disturbance” that made a conviction of the lesser offense of manslaughter appropriate.
The Court of Appeals said the state Supreme Court has held that for jury instructions on manslaughter to be appropriate because of an extreme emotional disturbance, the defendant must have killed the victim in the moment following a provocation such as a fight, threat or brandished weapon, which was not true in Johnson’s case.
Johnson further argued that his lawyer asked that the victim’s mother, Pam Boone, not be allowed to be present in the courtroom while other witnesses testified because she also was slated to testify, but the judge erroneously allowed her to remain.
The Court of Appeals said this was an error, but it said Johnson did not show that he was prejudiced by the mistake.
“Boone did not provide any negative or disparaging testimony about Johnson and did not testify about any material issues related to Johnson’s defense of mental disease or defect,” the court said in an opinion written by Judge Larry Vaught.