Steamboat Springs In response to his wife's annulment petition, accused murderer Thomas Lee Johnson claims he entered a common-law marriage with Kimberly Goodwin-Johnson long before they got married earlier this year.
According to a court file, Johnson filed a response to Goodwin-Johnson's annulment petition, claiming the couple entered a common-law marriage in April 1999.
Goodwin-Johnson has been seeking a annulment to end her marriage to Johnson, who faces murder charges in connection with the May murder of Goodwin-Johnson's best friend, Lori Bases.
An annulment hearing set for last Friday in a Routt County Court was continued and has yet to be rescheduled by attorneys representing the two parties.
While Goodwin-Johnson is seeking from the court to proclaim the marriage was "a declaration of invalidity," Johnson is claiming the marriage is valid and requests the marriage be "dissolved."
How the marriage is ended is a
his attorney, Norm Town-
is representing Johnson in connection with the criminal charges Johnson faces.
Townsend said information Johnson may have told his wife that is pertinent to the criminal case is protected by marital privilege.
But the couple's different resolutions to the marriage raises some questions on the impact it could have on the couples' marital privilege, said Sheila Hyatt, a Denver University law professor.
"When it comes to marital privilege, Colorado law is not clear," said Hyatt, who has been teaching at DU for more than 20 years. "This is a complicated issue."
"If the marriage is not valid (annulled) from the get-go, then it could be argued that the marital privilege is null," Hyatt said. "There would be nothing to protect because the marriage was void."
This might allow prosecutors to introduce testimony from Goodwin-Johnson.
If the marriage is "dissolved," marital privilege would apply because the marriage would be valid, Hyatt said, and Goodwin-Johnson's testimony would probably be protected.
With marital privilege, "a wife can't testify against her husband without his consent," Hyatt said. "But there is an exception to this when a serious crime has been committed."
If a serious crime is committed, which would include murder, a spouse can be compelled to testify, Hyatt said.
But here is where Colorado law is not clear on the issue, the law professor said.
"Even if she is required to testify, he could prevent her from testifying about things he specifically told her," Hyatt said. "The marital privilege may still apply to things he told her during the marriage."
As far as Hyatt knows, a precedent in the state has not been set in the context of these circumstances, she said.
With the two parties seeking different resolutions to end the marriage, Johnson's civil attorney, Ron Smith, and Goodwin-Johnson's attorney, Randall Klauzer, are negotiating an agreement, Smith said.
Smith could not comment on the issues that are being negotiated, he said.
Klauzer could not be reached for comment.
Johnson claims the couple was married before they went through a wedding ceremony this past May in Las Vegas. In April 1999, the couple "held themselves out to the public as husband and wife," the court document states.
Johnson introduced Goodwin-Johnson "as his wife." In return, Goodwin-Johnson introduced Johnson "as her husband," the document shows.
Johnson also claims the couple consummated their marriage and lived together after the common-law marriage, according to court documents.
But according to Goodwin-Johnson's affidavit, she was "emotionally fragile" when Johnson suggested they take a trip to Las Vegas at the end of May.
The two were married there May 28, just 17 days after Bases was killed.
In her affidavit, Goodwin-Johnson explained why she married Johnson.
"Thomas indicated that he was a man of trustworthiness and honesty and that he had no involvement with the death of Lori Bases, and would aid me in dealing with the murder of my best friend upon becoming married," the affidavit states.
Goodwin-Johnson "would not have gotten married," if Johnson wouldn't have represented himself as such, the affidavit states.
Johnson was arrested June 23 for the death of Bases, who was found dead by her roommate May 12 in her Steamboat Springs residence. She was stabbed multiple times throughout her body, including stabs to her neck.
Johnson has been charged with first-degree murder and felony murder. Both charges carry a sentence of life imprisonment or death. He is being held in jail without bond.
Goodwin-Johnson left her husband June 21, two days before he was arrested.
The day Johnson was arrested he had telephoned his ex-wife, Michelle Linnebur, and allegedly confessed to the murder.