Death penalty declined

Alleged murderer of Lori Bases could face life imprisonment

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— The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office will not be seeking the death penalty against Thomas Lee Johnson, who allegedly killed Lori Bases last May.

During a motion's hearing on Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James made 14th Judicial District Judge Joel S. Thompson aware of the decision.

"The state will be seeking a life sentence without parole," St. James said if Johnson is found guilty of the murder. "We will not seek the death penalty in this case."

Johnson's attorney, Norm Townsend, was notified of the decision prior to Tuesday's court proceeding.

"I never thought this was a death penalty case," Townsend said after court. "The prosecution has done the right thing. I appreciate they notified us when they did. The could have strung us out, but they didn't."

A prosecutor in the state has 60 days after a defendant is arraigned to notify the court if they are seeking the death penalty.

Johnson has not entered a plea in the murder case and is scheduled to do so at 1:30 p.m. May 18 in Thompson's courtroom.

St. James would not comment about the decision and referred questions to District Attorney Paul McLimans.

The decision to not seek the death penalty was made after McLimans said he reviewed the state's evidence and met with prosecutors St. James and Deputy District Attorney Charles Feldmann.

The decision was determined because McLimans said he believes the evidence and facts of the case do not meet the state requirements to make this a death penalty case.

"We have to prove at least one state aggravating factor," McLimans said. "In review of the evidence and the law, my view is we didn't meet the legal threshold to proceed."

Aggravating factors to seek the death penalty include killing two or more people, a person's criminal history or the killing of a child, a police officer, fireman or elected official.

Other aggravating factors also include premeditation or conspiracy to commit murder and if a person is killed at a time another crime is being committed.

The closest aggravating factor prosecutors considered was the "threshold of heinous, cruel or depraved manner in which the crime was committed," McLimans said.

Johnson, 30, has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree criminal trespass and criminal mischief for the death of the 31-year-old Steamboat Springs woman and the vandalism of her car last spring.

What plea Johnson will enter during the arraignment is not known at this time.

Among the options the defense is considering is a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Whether that plea will be entered is not known, especially after Tuesday's court proceeding.

Townsend was looking for some guidance from Thompson but did not get it regarding an insanity plea or mental condition testimony.

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