On Wednesday, a Dallas County jury answered the only question that remained about a gruesome 2015 murder on White Rock Creek jogging trail. Thomas Johnson, a former football star at Texas A&M and Dallas' Skyline High School, will spend the rest of his life in prison for murdering Dave Stevens.
There was never any real doubt that Johnson killed Stevens, an engineer for General Electric and marathon runner. His attorneys didn't call any witnesses during the guilt phase of his trial and conceded that their client hacked Stevens to death with a machete in their arguments to the jury.
The defense's strategy focused not on arguing for their client's innocence, but that his schizophrenia contributed to his actions and called for a less-than-maximum sentence.
"But not for his disease, would we be here in this courtroom? And the answer to that question, everyone will tell you, is no," defense attorney Paul Johnson said, according to reporters in the courtroom. "How do we, as a society, punish somebody acting under the influence of their disease?"
It took the jury about 15 minutes to convict Johnson. During the punishment phase of the trial, the victim's brother, Mark Stevens, described the bond between Dave Stevens and his wife, Patti Stevens. Patti Stevens committed suicide two weeks after Johnson killed her husband.
"They were meant for each other. That’s why Patti isn’t here today. She told me, 'How can I be here knowing what he did to my Dave?' She just couldn’t continue on," he said.
Johnson's family described his mental illness. He heard voices in his head, laughed to himself and called himself "the messiah," at one point, they said.
"You'd think he was listening to a headset," Robert Johnson, Thomas Johnson's dad, told the jury.
When Texas A&M knocked off No. 1-ranked Alabama 10 weeks into Johnson's freshman season in 2012, he took it as a sign from God and left the team, his attorneys said. Brenda Cradler, Johnson aunt, said those around him ignored his symptoms because they were blinded by his talent.
"All they saw was his athletic abilities," Cradler said. "And nobody would listen to him."
In 2016, Johnson was found incompetent to stand trial. That changed in June, after a psychiatric evaluation found that Johnson's condition had improved enough for him to understand the charges against him and the trial in which he was about to participate.
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