Retrial of Martin Allen Johnson begins, convicted of killing teen
Opening statements in the retrial of an Aloha man convicted of aggravated murder in 2001 began Tuesday morning at the Washington County Courthouse.
Martin Allen Johnson was sentenced to death in 2001 after he was convicted of murdering 15-year-old Heather Fraser, of Metzger. He was granted a retrial in 2013 by a Marion County judge, which the the Oregon Supreme Court upheld in 2017, overturning Johnson's conviction. The court ruled that Johnson's attorneys inadequately represented him during his original trial.
The re-trial is the first trial of its kind in Washington County to be impacted by new limitations on the death penalty passed earlier this year by the Oregon Legislature. Senate Bill 1013 restricts the use of capital punishment, making it more difficult for prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
Beacuse the requirements for aggravated murder have changed since Johnson's initial trial in 2001, the Aloha man has been charged with first-degree murder for his retrial, which does not carry the death penalty.
In the courtroom on Tuesday, Oct. 29, Chief Deputy District Attorney Bracken McKey took jurors back to Feb. 23, 1998, when 15-year-old Fraser left her home on Taylors Ferry Road at about 2:30 a.m. bound for Johnson's home in Aloha.
"That was the last time (Fraser's mother) saw her daughter until she identified her body at the mortuary," McKey said, adding Fraser's mother was in the courtroom on Tuesday "for her daughter."
Fraser went to the then-41-year-old Johnson's home to use his computer. The two did drugs and had sex, McKey said. The next day, her body was found washed ashore in the Oregon coastal town of Warrenton, more than 80 miles from Aloha.
In his opening statements, McKey's said Johnson called Fraser from work half an hour before she left her house that morning. Blood found in Johnson's car matched DNA found when a rape kit was performed on Fraser's body, McKey said.
He also told jurors about Johnson's suspicious interactions with law enforcement.
The night of Fraser's death, a police officer stopped Johnson in St. Helens, a town between Portland and Warrenton on Highway 30, for a broken light.
"John was nervous, he was evasive," McKey said, describing the police officer's account of the traffic stop.
During an initial interview with detectives about Fraser's death, Johnson reportedly erased the first part of the police interview by taping over it when the detectives left the room, McKey said.
After investigators searched his home, Johnson fled the state. He was arrested in Florida a year later after a segment of the show "America's Most Wanted" featured him. In Florida, officers found Johnson with fake identification and books about how to evade law enforcement, McKey said.
After he returned to Oregon, Johnson told officers, "you should have never let me go," McKey said.
McKey said there is no question what happened to Fraser thatnight. An autopsy showed her death was caused by strangulation, McKey said. Fraser's body showed bruising around her neck and face that could have only occurred prior to her death, he said.
Johnson's attorney Steven Eberlein disputed the accuracy of the autopsy, arguing it wasn't strangulation that killed her, but an accidental drug overdose.
Eberlein said the medical examiner at the time didn't adequately incorporate the results of Fraser's toxicology report.
"The night Heather Fraser died, she had a lethal dose of morphine in her system," Eberlein said.
A toxicology report showed Fraser had consumed at least two times the lethal dose of morphine.
"Their narrative is incomplete," Eberlein said about the prosecution's arguments.
Johnson has claimed it was an overdose that killed Fraser since he was first arrested in 1999.
The night of Fraser's death, Johnson said, she had come to his home where they had taken drugs and had sex. He fell asleep and when he awoke he found her dead in his home. Scared that he would be charged with her death, he wrapped her in a blanket, drove to Astoria and pushed her off the Astoria-Megler bridge, he said.
During his original trial, Johnson's attorneys didn't argue that Fraser had overdosed, instead arguing that jurors should acquit Johnson on the technicallity that Fraser could have died from drowning after her body was thrown from the bridge. Attorneys argued that because the crime technically occured in Clatsop County — not Washington County — jurors had no choice but to let him go free.
Jurors weren't convinced and convicted him after two hours of deliberating. His attorney's refusal to look into Martin's claims of a drug overdose was the basis of Johnson's appeal.
On Tuesday, Eberlein repeatedly said Johnson "lived in a twisted world," describing his long history of drugging and raping young girls. At the time of his arrest, Johnson was wanted on rape, sex abuse and sodomy charges in Multnomah and Clackamas counties against young girls under the age of 15.
On Tuesday, Eberlein quoted multiple underaged girls Johnson had relationships with saying he was never violent.
When Eberlein quoted the girls, McKey objected four times, saying the evidence was not admissible. Judge Eric Butterfield overruled the objection each time.
Following the opening statements, prosecutors immediately began calling witnesses to the stand, starting with the man who discovered Fraser's body on the beach.
The trial continues this week and is expected to last as through mid-November.
By Max Egener
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