A decade to the day from when an East Baton Rouge Parish jury convicted Anthony Johnson of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Daniel Magee, a district judge sentenced him for a second time to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Judge Richard Anderson handed down the sentence in a brief hearing Wednesday morning that came a month after prosecutors and Johnson's attorney presented arguments over whether the convicted killer should be given an opportunity at release after 35 years in prison.
Citing Johnson's behavior at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola — which prison officials said last month included 39 disciplinary reports — the judge said Johnson appeared to have shown little promise of redemption during his decade at the prison.
"It doesn't appear the defendant has changed a whole lot," Anderson said just before reimposing a life-without-parole sentence. "He was ungovernable then, he's ungovernable now and always puts himself first."
Johnson, now 28, was quickly hustled out of the courtroom after the roughly two-minute proceeding. Appearing in shackles and sporting a Mohawk haircut and full beard, Johnson said nothing during his brief appearance other than to state his former address in Baton Rouge for the court record.
Johnson's new life-without-parole sentence comes as state lawmakers, prodded by a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings and a broad push to reform the state's criminal justice system, consider changes to life sentences for teenagers.
The mother of a Baton Rouge man shot to death by a 17-year-old boy in 2005 told a judge Tues…
A bill sponsored by Baton Rouge Republican Sen. Dan Claitor would give all people convicted of second-degree murder for crimes committed as a juvenile — including Johnson — parole eligibility after serving at least 30 years.
On Dec. 11, 2005, Magee was shot while driving his vehicle, and his body was left along River Road. Johnson, who prosecutors said was in the front seat when he shot Magee, originally tried to blame another 17 year old in the car, Robert Louis Edwards, for the killing. Edwards pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to second-degree murder and was sentenced to five years in prison. All but 18 months of that sentence were suspended.
Magee's parents, Mary and Steve Magee, said Wednesday their son was working two jobs — at a home security company and at an Albertson's supermarket — at the time of his killing. They called Anderson's decision to reimpose a life-without-parole sentence an act of justice for their son, but said the latest round of hearings ripped away a sense of partial relief they had felt after Johnson's conviction.
"I don't think there's ever going to be the sense of closure we felt on that day," Mary Magee said, referring to the day exactly 10 years earlier when a jury found Johnson guilty. As she spoke with reporters, Magee pulled out an old calendar page on which she'd marked the day of the verdict — April 19, 2007 — by writing "JUSTICE FOR DAN" in red block letters.
Johnson appealed his original sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court declared automatic prison terms of life without parole for juvenile murderers unconstitutional.
U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 in an Alabama case that automatic life terms for juvenile killers unconstitutional and said they are entitled to hearings to determine whether they are capable of reform.
Last year, in the case of an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy fatally shot by a 17-year-old boy in 1963, the nation's highest court overturned Louisiana courts and ruled that its 2012 decision should apply retroactively.
The court ruled that a sentence of life without parole — the harshest penalty possible for a juvenile defendant, and until 2013 the only possible sentence in Louisiana for a juvenile charged with murder — should only be applied to the worst offenders who show little possibility of reform.
Dana Cummings, the East Baton Rouge assistant district attorney who prosecuted Johnson at trial, argued at a March hearing to reconsider Johnson's sentence that the label should apply to Johnson in light of his conduct behind bars.
"He continues to be (among) the worst of the worst — at Angola," she told Anderson at the March hearing, when Magee's family also presented emotional pleas to the judge to re-impose the same sentence. "There are no mitigating factors here."
Johnson's attorney, Bob Tucker, argued that the teenager who killed Magee on Dec. 11, 2005 — Johnson turned 17 four days earlier — cannot be compared to an adult, pointing to differences in maturity among other factors.
That apparently did little to sway Anderson, who on Wednesday highlighted testimony from Gary Stagg, a former Angola assistant warden and current deputy secretary at the state Department of Corrections, before again issuing Johnson the same sentence he handed down following Johnson's 2007 trial.
Stagg told the court in March that Johnson's infractions at Angola included masturbating in front of a female correctional officer, being caught with contraband, and battery on a corrections officer.
But outside the courthouse Wednesday, Johnson's family said they've seen a changed man on their visits to Angola. Johnson has expressed remorse and regret for his actions and hoped for an opportunity — albeit decades in the future — to appeal for release, his mother and older brother said, but has also been shaped by the environment inside the prison.
"You put a juvenile in the belly of the beast," said Jeremy Johnson, Anthony's older brother. "He's not at the YMCA, he's in Angola."
"Angola is raising him because I didn't get a chance to finish raising my child," said Delane Jones, Johnson's mother. She stood outside the downtown courthouse but said she couldn't bring herself to attend the hearing itself, saying she had no hope for a different sentence. Jones added that her son dealt with undiagnosed autism and attention-deficit disorder as a child.
Magee's parents, though, said their lives have been unalterably shaped by Daniel's murder. For almost two years, the couple said, they lived on a steady diet of hot dogs and little else because, in the wake of grief, they found themselves listlessly wandering grocery store aisles, unable to pick other foods off the shelves or plan a meal.
Mary Magee said her surviving son — born two years before Daniel and now a police officer — just named his new baby boy after Daniel.
"It's hard not to think about what his children would've been like," she said.