Martin Johnson found guilty, again, for murder of Metzger teen
The murder retrial of Martin Allen Johnson concluded Friday, Nov. 8, after a Washington County jury found the Aloha man guilty on eight counts of first-degree murder.
The decision resolves crimes that Johnson committed more than 20 years ago.
In 2001, Johnson was sentenced to death 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 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 retrial was 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.
Because the requirements for aggravated murder have changed since Johnson's initial trial in 2001, the Aloha man was charged with first-degree murder for his retrial, which does not carry the death penalty.
Sentencing for Johnson has been scheduled for 9 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Following closing statements on Friday, the jury deliberated for two and a half hours before finding Johnson guilty on all counts sought by the state.
Prosecutor Jeffery MacLean began his closing statements by asking jurors to remember why they were there.
"We're here because Heather Fraser was drugged, raped, assaulted, strangled, murdered, dumped into the Columbia River, and it was by that man, Martin Allen Johnson," MacLean said pointing to a photo of Johnson.
He said the last person to see Fraser alive other than Johnson was her mother. Fraser left her home on Taylors Ferry Road at about 2:30 a.m on Feb. 23, 1998, and got into 41-year-old Johnson's car with the expectation of using his computer.
The next day, Fraser's body was found washed ashore in the Oregon coastal town of Warrenton, more than 80 miles from Aloha.
In his closing statements, MacLean reminded jurors of Johnson's extensive history of sexually assaulting underage girls. He said Johnson got close to the girls by offering to give them rides and buying them alcohol and other drugs. MacLean recounted the statements of six other women who said Johnson drugged and raped them as teens.
MacLean said Johnson grew angry that Fraser didn't want to be intimate with him. Johnson gave Fraser morphine, which made her defenseless as he raped her and strangled her until she died, MacLean said. The prosecutor reminded jurors that a hospice nurse for Johnson's father with terminal cancer testified that when Johnson became a caregiver, his father's morphine allocation increased.
After Fraser was killed, Johnson drove to the Oregon coast and threw her body over the Astoria-Megler bridge, MacLean said, adding that police found Fraser's blood in the trunk of Johnson's car.
The prosecutor also described Johnson's efforts to evade law enforcement.
During an initial interview with detectives, Johnson taped over a recording of the interview when detectives left the room, Maclean 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, MacLean said.
In his closing statements, Johnson's attorney Dean Smith told jurors they could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that Fraser died because Johnson strangled her, not because she had a lethal dose of morphine in her system, as a toxicology report at the time said.
"How much time did the state spend talking about what is at issue in this case," Smith said referring to the amount of time prosecutors talked about Fraser's autopsy.
During his original trial in 2001, Johnson's attorneys refused to look into Johnson's claims that she died of a drug overdose, instead arguing that jurors should acquit Johnson on the technicality that Fraser could have died from drowning after her body was thrown from the bridge. Attorneys argued that because the crime technically occurred in Clatsop County — not Washington County — jurors had no choice but to let him go free.
Jurors weren't convinced and convicted him. Appeals judges ruled the unusual defense was "unlikely to succeed in the extreme," and granted Johnson a re-trial.
On Friday, Smith spent much of his closing statements calling the accuracy of Fraser's autopsy report into question. State medical examiners reported that Fraser died by strangulation, according to prosecutors.
"Really? Are those fingerprint marks on that neck?" Smith said showing jurors photos of Fraser's body.
Smith said bruising to Fraser's face and neck occurred after Fraser's body was thrown into the Columbia River. Prosecutors said the injuries could have only occurred before her death.
Smith didn't refute the state's arguments that Johnson had a history of drugging and raping young girls.
"These are not contested issues," Smith said. "We talked about his twisted normal. You are here to decide the disputed issues."
In the state's rebuttal, prosecutor Bracken McKey pushed back on the defense's argument that Johnson was not violent toward the other underage girls, and therefore wouldn't have strangled Fraser. McKey said sexually assaulting a girl after drugging her is violence.
"At some point he had to drug a girl for the first time, at some point he had to assault a girl for the first time and at some point he killed a girl for the first time," McKey said. "The evidence is overwhelming that this defendant intentionally killed Heather Fraser."
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