GONZALES — Holding back tears, with his head bowed, sitting behind the defense table, David Johnson listened Monday as his stepson, father-in-law and sister-in-law described their loss and their determination to go on after Johnson's brutal slaying of his estranged wife more than two years ago.
The emotional confrontation at the Ascension Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales had members of the victim's family and even prosecutors weeping, and came moments before state Judge Thomas Kliebert Jr. gave Johnson, 40, a mandatory life sentence for second-degree murder.
Against the advice of his attorney and in a bid to spare his children from a trial, Johnson pleaded guilty as charged on July 10, a day before he was set for trial in the August 2015 slaying of Monica Butler Johnson.
GONZALES — A Geismar man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Monday in the beating and st…
During Monday's hearing, Charles "C.J." Butler Jr., 20, told David Johnson, his stepfather, about his little brother's nightmares ever since Aug. 9, 2015, when Johnson strangled and beat the 45-year-old Butler Johnson to death with a baseball bat in the backyard of their Bluff Road area home.
Charles Butler, who was injured as well by David Johnson that day, credited his mother with making him who he is — a person who could overcome her death, now attends college and is trying to be there for his little brother — but he lamented that his now 10-year-old brother, who is David Johnson's biological child with Butler Johnson, won't know or learn as much from their mother as he did.
"He only got eight years of it. I got 18," Butler said.
Prosecutors with the 23rd Judicial District said Johnson admitted after his capture in West Baton Rouge Parish to beating and strangling Butler Johnson. Prosecutors added that they also had recordings of calls that David Johnson made to family members and co-workers after the slaying in which he admitted to it and of calls he had with Butler Johnson beforehand. The calls were recorded through an app on David Johnson's telephone, prosecutors said.
Johnson, who had a restraining order against him, also told detectives that he watched his former home in the 12100 block of Canterbury Park Drive in Geismar for two hours before the attack while a party was happening. He waited for family and friends to leave before he entered the backyard. That's where Butler Johnson was attacked and her body was later found, prosecutors said.
David Johnson had previously assaulted Butler Johnson more than once and had the restraining order against him because he allegedly tried to strangle her during an argument over a cell phone, prosecutors said.
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Before the plea in July, Rusty Messer, the defense attorney for David Johnson, had questioned his sanity at the time of the slaying and his competency to stand trial. After a stroke in June 2014, Johnson, a former East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy until 2003, became more moody, violent and obsessive, Messer argued. A physician had recommended Johnson be evaluated for loss of higher cognitive function due to the stroke, but he was never examined before the slaying.
Keila Joseph Alexander, Butler Johnson's sister, emphasized on Monday the hurt that David Johnson had put her family through, recalling her own screams when Johnson called her to tell her that he had killed her sister.
She also noted, though, the success the Johnsons' 10-year-old son has been able to maintain since his mother was killed, as a straight-A student and two-sport athlete. Alexander said the boy is "going to make it in this world" because of what he has gotten from his mother, not his father.
Messer asked Kliebert if he could read a statement from David Johnson, who was still weeping after Alexander's comments, for a time with his forehead down on the defense desk. After a vigorously debated point before Kliebert and out of earshot of the courtroom audience, though, Messer chose not to read the statement.
He said later that after he reviewed it, he advised against reading it, saying there was enough emotion in the air. Messer said he told Johnson he would ask prosecutors to convey what was in it to the family. Messer said the statement was an apology, saying Johnson knew his victim's family expected more of him and, though he could never make up for the wrong, he hoped they could forgive him.