Marine Who Shot and Killed UNT Student at Intersection Gets 44-Year Prison Sentence

Eric Johnson and Sara Mutschlechner
Eric Johnson and Sara Mutschlechner Denton County DA via Twitter
Sara Mutschlechner was the designated driver for her friends on New Year's Eve in 2016. The 20-year-old was enrolled in the radio, television and film program at the University of North Texas. Eric Johnson was a 21-year-old Marine corporal on leave and an aspiring rapper with the moniker "Santaga Sage."

The pair met at a stoplight not far from Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Passengers in Johnson's vehicle started catcalling and screaming at Mutschlechner's car. The exchange got heated, and Johnson fired two gunshots. He said he intended to “scare off” Mutschlechner. Instead, she was killed.

Johnson's trial lasted a week. The jury only needed a day to find him guilty of murder. On Tuesday, he received a sentence of 44 years in prison.

Last week, at the trial in 362nd Judicial District Court, the tragic events of that New Year’s Eve unfolded in the courtroom. Johnson, who had been staying with family in Fort Worth, was riding with a car full of friends, including "Pimpyz" and "Tay-K" from the group the Daytona Boyz. They were headlining a house party that night.

Mutschlechner had been spending time with her family during her winter break from school. She and her friends attended the house party, called “New Years Bash” on the flier plastered all over social media.

Mutschlechner and her friends left the house party at 2 a.m. and stopped at a red light at the intersection of North Elm Street and University Drive. Johnson and his buddies pulled up next to them in a gray SUV and motioned for them to roll down their window.

Johnson and the others asked where they were going and if they wanted to have sex. Police later reported that Mutschlechner's male friend yelled that he was going to “beat his ass.” Johnson flashed a handgun and yelled, “I’ll shoot your ass.”

He pulled the trigger, striking Mutschlechner in the head. Her car crashed into a utility pole. Witnesses told police that Johnson's car then sped away.

Johnson’s attorney, Bruce Isaacks, told the jury that Johnson should be charged with manslaughter and not murder because, as Johnson pointed out, he had been trying to “scare them off” when he fired two shots from his handgun. The attorney also claimed Johnson was high on Xanax at the time. The Marine Corps discharged Johnson after he was charged with murder.

The jury of seven men and six women disagreed with Isaacks and convicted Johnson of murder Monday afternoon. They spent Tuesday determining Johnson’s punishment. Denton County District Attorney's Office released a statement via Twitter after the jury returned its sentence:

"Yesterday, a Denton County jury found Eric Johnson guilty of Murder for the shooting death of UNT student Sara Mutschlechner. Today, that same jury sentenced Eric Johnson to 44 years in prison. Johnson was indicated for firing two shots at the car in which Mutschlechner was driving. This followed a dispute after a party that the occupants of the car had attended. The loss of Sara effected not only her family, but the UNT community as well. ADA's Tony Paul and Michelle Dobson prosecuted the case for the State of Texas. Inv. Joe Erwin from the DA's Office also assisted in the successful prosecution of Eric Johnson. We'd like to thank the Denton Police Department for all of their hard work investigating the case. We'd also like to thank the Yuma PD and NCIS for assisting in the investigation."
Before he was sentenced, Johnson told jurors, "I feel very bad about what happened — about taking this young lady away from her family and all her loved ones ... I didn't intend to do that."
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.