Accused killer enters plea

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— Thomas Lee Johnson's not guilty plea to first-degree murder Friday afternoon has set the stage for a three-week jury trial set for later this year in Steamboat Springs for now.

The 30-year-old man entered the plea through his attorney, Norm Townsend, during a half-hour court proceeding.

Johnson also pleaded not guilty to criminal trespass and criminal mischief in front of 14th Judicial District Judge Joel S. Thompson.

With the pleas entered, Thompson scheduled a 12-member jury trial to start the morning of Oct. 29.

Johnson allegedly killed Lori Bases about a year ago. He also faces charges for allegedly damaging Bases' sport utility vehicle weeks before she was killed.

The 31-year-old woman was found dead in her Steamboat Boulevard apartment May 12, 2000.

According to an autopsy, Bases bled to death. She was stabbed numerous times and had wounds throughout her body, including her neck.

In preparation for trial, Johnson will undergo a mental evaluation at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.

Johnson will undergo psychiatric evaluations for competency, mental condition and sanity. The evaluations are needed because Townsend plans on having an expert witness give testimony during the trial regarding Johnson's mental condition.

The psychiatric interviews that will be conducted at the state hospital will be recorded with the use of audio and videotapes.

Townsend requested this be done because he fears that if state therapists determine Johnson is not cooperating during the interviews, the mental condition testimony can't be introduced in court.

With the recording of the interviews, "The court can be in a position to view what has transpired," Townsend said. "The court can then make its own determination instead of relying on second-hand information from the state hospital."

Townsend had this request granted by Thompson but had another request that Johnson be interviewed only by a female therapist at the state hospital denied.

Townsend argued his client would be more "open and candid" with a female therapist.

Townsend also notified the court his client will not be answering any questions during the evaluations that officials at the state hospital may ask about the alleged murder, he said.

"We have advised Mr. Johnson to not discuss the details of these alleged offenses," Townsend said.

Any statements Johnson may make about the alleged crimes during the evaluations could be used by Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James in his prosecution of the case.

Townsend also notified Thompson that a decision about whether the trial will be conducted in Steamboat Springs has not yet been made.

"We have contemplated it," Townsend said of filing a request to change the location of the trial. "But we have not made a decision."

Johnson, who was wearing an orange Routt County Jail uniform and was in hand and foot restraints, entered the pleas in front of a full courtroom.

Family and friends of the slain woman attended the arraignment. Top officials within the Steamboat Springs Police Department also attended.

Security for the court proceeding was also tight. Four Routt County Sheriff's deputies, including Undersheriff Dan Taylor, were present in the courtroom.

Along with setting a time frame for the trial, Thompson also set aside three days in August to hear any pretrial motions. Any motions that are filed before the trial will be heard Aug. 8, 9 and 10.

Thompson also scheduled a pretrial conference hearing for 9 a.m. Sept. 28.

If Johnson is convicted of the murder charge, he faces life imprisonment. St. James is not seeking the death penalty.

If Johnson is convicted of criminal mischief, he could serve one to 16 years in prison. The trespass charge carries a minimum prison term of six months and a maximum of eight years.

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