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Published: Wednesday, 2/24/2010

Jury sees site in slaying trial

Johnson Johnson

The short alley running parallel to Bancroft Street shone brightly under the midafternoon sun Tuesday and was filled with slushy snow as Lucas County Common Pleas Court jurors took in their surroundings.

It was the same place where, months earlier, emergency crews responding to a call of a person down found April Nicole Johnson unconscious and not breathing as her husband — eventually charged with her death — stood nearby.

Before hearing evidence in the murder trial of Johnnie Johnson, jurors viewed the central-city alley where Ms. Johnson was found about 10 p.m. May 23.

She was rushed to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where she died four days later after she was taken off life support, Assistant County Prosecutor Andy Lastra told jurors.

The cause of death was strangulation, he said. Mr. Johnson calmly stood by even though he was feet away from his unconscious wife, Mr. Lastra said.

Mr. Johnson, 42, of 2030 Ashland Ave., Apt. 610, is charged with two alternate counts of murder. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

“There were defensive wounds on April Johnson's hands, particularly on her knuckles,” Mr. Lastra said during opening statements. “… The only person who had the opportunity, given the timeline, was the defendant, Johnnie Johnson.”

Attorney Myron Duhart, who is representing Mr. Johnson, told jurors there were “two sides to every story” and, in this case, other people were involved.

He said Ms. Johnson was known to be a prostitute who would “ply her trade” in the alley where she was found. Video surveillance from her nearby apartment building showed her leaving that night with an unknown man, Mr. Duhart said.

“… It's not peculiar for him to be in this alley looking for his wife,” he said. “That's a normal set of circumstances in their lives.”

Two of the responding emergency crew members testified yesterday about the state Ms. Johnson was in when they arrived. Michael Fuelling, a firefighter and emergency medical technician, testified that Mr. Johnson stood nearby “generally interested, but not more than that.”

Capt. Ronald Ellis of the Toledo Fire Department said he spoke briefly to a man identifying himself as the victim's husband to obtain any pertinent medical information. He said he was told by the man, whom he described as “calm,” that the woman was a user of drugs and alcohol and that she had a heart murmur.

Also testifying was a former resident of the area who recalled seeing a man whom she identified as Mr. Johnson walking through her yard from the alley.

The trial is to resume today before Judge Linda Jennings.

Contact Erica Blake at:eblake@theblade.comor 419-213-2134.

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