Johnson dealt death penalty

Published 7:44 pm Monday, February 26, 2007

By By Lisa Tindell
An Atmore man who was convicted of killing his six-month-old son was granted his wish Wednesday when he was sentenced to death.
Circuit Judge Bradley Byrne sentenced Christopher Johnson of Atmore to death, as recommended by the jury following the completion of a December trial.
"I have tried to give you the benefit of the doubt," Byrne told Johnson during the sentencing Wednesday afternoon. "I believe you were ill equipped to be a good parent. There were times that it appears you tried to be a good parent. But I believe something went terribly wrong on that night in February two years ago. I believe that you did not set out that night to kill Elias, but you made bad decisions and it went too far. Your son is now dead."
Johnson said he didn't understand why there were questions regarding the penalty in the case.
"The jury said I deserved the death penalty," Johnson told Byrne. "The last thing my wife said to me was 'I hope you die soon' and it's what I want. This is a plain point of law and I don't see what the debate is."
Byrne, who admitted struggling over the evidence and decisions to be made in the case, told Johnson that a debate in the penalty was not in question.
"It's not what you want or what the state wants at this point," Byrne said. "It's not even what the court wants that is important. It's what the law says we have to do. The court must weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and make decisions based on those facts."
Byrne said the court's requirement is to accept any evidence presented at face value.
"As much as I've wrestled with the case, I have to accept evidence at face value," Byrne said. "It's not my job to determine your motivation. You testified in this case at the trial that you intended to kill your son. You said that in court, under oath. I have to accept that."
Byrne said, after his consideration in the case, the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigation circumstances.
"Because of that, the law clearly states what sentence must be imposed," Byrne said. "In this case, it is the death penalty."
Johnson was turned over to the Alabama Department of Corrections for the implementation of the sentence. Authorities said an automatic appeal would be presented by the Alabama Criminal Appeals department. If the defendant chooses not to pursue additional appeals, the death sentenced would be carried out by the State of Alabama Department of Corrections.
Johnson, in the days leading up to his court appearance Wednesday, had refused to bathe, Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said.
"He wouldn't take a shower," Smith said. "For his health and ours, he needed to take a shower. He was uncooperative and even beat his head on the wall. A taser had to be used to subdue him to give him a shower.
"We used the wheelchair to get him to the courthouse," Smith said. "He choose to stay in the chair once we got him here. Based on his prior conduct, the court requested he remain cuffed and shackled."

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