Phone records at issue

Defense fights evidence against Thomas Lee Johnson

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— The legal sparring began Wednesday in the murder trial of Thomas Lee Johnson.

The jury trial will not start until October, but lawyers were in court for a hearing Wednesday to argue over evidence authorities have gathered in their murder investigation. Johnson is accused of killing Lori Bases last year.

Norm Townsend, who is representing Johnson, argued that much of the evidence police have gathered against his client should be suppressed.

Fourteenth Judicial District Judge Joel S. Thompson presided over the hearing, which will resume at 8:30 a.m. today.

During Wednesday's hearing, Townsend said authorities used illegal means to gather evidence in building a case against the 31-year-old Johnson. District Attorney Paul McLimans and Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James countered Townsend.

Bases, 31, was found dead in her Steamboat Boulevard apartment by her roommate the morning of May 12, 2000. According to an autopsy, Bases bled to death after being stabbed numerous times.

Johnson has been charged with first-degree murder, criminal mischief and trespassing. A jury trial is scheduled to start Oct. 29.

On Wednesday, Townsend questioned pay phone and credit card records authorities gathered. Townsend also questioned a search of Johnson's California apartment about a month after the murder. Townsend argued records authorities have of a pay phone call Johnson made to his ex-wife, Michelle Linnebur, were obtained illegally.

Johnson reportedly used a Steamboat Springs pay phone to call Linnebur the evening of June 23. During the phone call, Johnson allegedly confessed to his ex-wife that he killed Bases. A Steamboat Springs police officer overheard the conversation. The officer was at Linnebur's home to interview her.

Drug Enforcement Agent Donald Sperry supplied authorities with the record of the call. At the time, Sperry was conducting a drug investigation and was monitoring the phone Johnson used.

Townsend argued that, in order to get the record from the phone company, Sperry falsified a subpoena claiming he needed the records for a drug investigation. "He lied to the phone company, and the people want to use that as evidence gained in a lie," Townsend said.

McLimans argued the evidence should not be suppressed because of "poor police work."

Townsend also questioned the methods a Sioux Falls, S.D., police officer used to get Johnson's credit card records. Last June, Sgt. Clay Thormodsgard, at the request of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, obtained a search warrant to get Johnson's credit card records from a Sioux Falls company.

Townsend also called to the stand the three Folsom, Calif., officers who searched Johnson's Sacramento County apartment. Townsend questioned the methods the men used to obtain a warrant.

The prosecution's theory is that Johnson killed Bases because he thought Bases was interfering with his relationship with Kimberly Goodwin, who was Bases' friend. Johnson married Goodwin about two weeks after Bases' death, and the couple moved to California. The two divorced this past December.

If convicted of the murder charge, Johnson faces life imprisonment.

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