Fort Collins Crying at times, Thomas Lee Johnson confessed to Michelle Linnebur that he stabbed Lori Bases to death and then returned to her apartment to pray over her, Linnebur testified Tuesday at Johnson's murder trial.
For about an hour, Linnebur, Johnson's ex-wife, calmly told a quiet courtroom of the telephone call Johnson placed to her the evening of June 23, 2000.
During the call, overheard by a Steamboat Springs police officer, Johnson admitted that he stabbed and slashed Bases with a knife on May 11, 2000, at the woman's Steamboat Springs apartment.
Johnson, 31, is on trial for first-degree murder at the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins.
The trial was moved there from Steamboat Springs on a change of venue. Johnson also faces charges of criminal mischief and trespass for allegedly vandalizing Bases' vehicle about a month before her death.
Prosecutors claim Johnson planned to kill the 31-year-old Bases because she was interfering with his relationship with Kimberly Goodwin. Johnson's attorneys contend their client went to Bases' apartment to convince Bases to participate in the wedding Goodwin and Johnson planned and that Johnson killed Bases in self-defense.
Johnson was married to Linnebur from October 1992 through December 1996 and the couple had three children.
Johnson called Linnebur from a Steamboat Springs pay phone shortly after he had been taken off a bus by Steamboat police so he could submit hair, blood and saliva samples. At the time Johnson was detained, he was traveling by bus from California to his parents' home in Longmont.
When Johnson placed the 7 p.m. call to Linnebur's Byers home, Steamboat Springs Capt. Richard Crotz and Sgt. Joel Rae were finishing an interview with Linnebur regarding Johnson.
As the officers were leaving, the phone rang at Linnebur's home. Immediately after answering the phone, Linnebur notified the two officers it was Johnson on the other end of the line.
As Linnebur switched telephones in her home, she handed the cordless phone she had answered in her kitchen to Crotz.
"I asked Thomas what was going on," Linnebur testified. "He broke down crying and said he was going to check himself into a mental hospital."
Linnebur testified that initially Johnson did not want to talk about what was making him "suicidal and depressed." He wanted to wait until they met in person, Linnebur said. But she kept pressing him for information until he decided to tell her what happened.
During this time, Crotz, Rae and Linnebur's husband were trying to find a tape recorder and a tape to record the conversation. Authorities were able to tape a portion of the call that will be heard by the 12-member jury at 9 a.m. today when the trial resumes.
Johnson "began by telling me that he rented a car and had arranged to go talk to Lori," Linnebur said. "He told me no one was coming to (Johnson's and Goodwin's) wedding.
"He was talking to Lori, and she told him the whole situation between Kim and him made her 'sick.' Lori told him to leave. (Johnson) told me he couldn't do that. He said (Bases) went into (her bedroom) and came back with a knife. He didn't know what her intention was. A struggle ensued. Lori began yelling 'rape.' He said he tackled her to the couch and in doing so he felt the knife go into her. He said he panicked and was going to make it look like an accident."
Linnebur said she asked Johnson what he meant by "accident."
"Let's just say there were multiple stab wounds," Linnebur testified Johnson told her.
Linnebur said she was shocked by what Johnson had said and asked why he didn't walk away. Johnson said he couldn't walk away. He alleged to Linnebur that Goodwin had ordered him to hurt Bases.
"He said Kim would drop the rape charges if he hurt Bases," Linnebur said Johnson told her.
Goodwin claims Johnson took a consensual sexual activity too far on April 7, 2000. Goodwin was treated at a local hospital and gave a statement to authorities. The next day, Goodwin traveled to Steamboat Springs to stay with Bases at her Steamboat Boulevard apartment. In May, Goodwin changed her statement and charges were never filed against Johnson.
Johnson said "he didn't mean to kill (Bases)," Linnebur said. "He said he left but came back to see if (Bases) was still alive. He said he put his hand on her and said a few prayers and their blood mixed."
Because of the incident, Johnson was cut on his left thumb. Police found Johnson's blood inside Bases' apartment on a kitchen counter and door.
Linnebur testified Johnson "threw away the knife and as much as he could." As the conversation was coming to an end, Linnebur said Johnson told her to go to the police after he had checked himself into a mental hospital.
"I told him I was sorry for whatever was going to happen to him," Linnebur said.
After the phone call, Johnson was arrested by Steamboat Springs authorities.