Tuesday, November 6, 2001
Fort Collins The taped conversation in which Thomas Lee Johnson admitted that he killed Lori Bases was heard by Justice Joseph P. Quinn and the courtroom gallery Tuesday evening.
Prosecutors intend to play the taped conversation to the 12-member jury when the murder trial resumes at 9 a.m. today at the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins.
The jury, which consists of eight women and four men, will hear a portion of the conversation between Johnson and his ex-wife, Michelle Linnebur. Steamboat Springs police officers who were at Linnebur's Byers home listened in on the conversation and were able to tape a portion of it. Johnson is on trial for first-degree murder in connection with Bases' death at her Steamboat Springs apartment.
Prosecutors claim the 31-year-old Johnson planned to kill Bases because she was interfering with his relationship with Kimberly Goodwin. Johnson's attorneys assert their client went to the apartment of Goodwin's best friend to persuade her to be in the couple's wedding. They claim Johnson killed the 31-year-old woman in self-defense. With the jury dismissed for the day, Quinn and the rest of the courtroom listened to the taped conversation, which had been enhanced digitally by a forensic audio firm.
Even though the conversation has been digitally enhanced and copied onto a compact disc, portions of the conversation were tough to hear. "It is inaudible in some parts," Quinn said after listening to the taped conversation.
The conversation starts with Johnson crying and saying he is going to check himself into a mental hospital. He then talks about leaving Bases' Steamboat Boulevard apartment and returning to see if the woman is alive.
"I sat there and said some prayers," Johnson can be heard saying. "I put my hand on her and did all that."
Bases' family remained in the courtroom to listened to the tape, as did Johnson's father and mother, who wept during a portion of the taped conversation.
"I should have walked away when she kicked me out of the house," Johnson was recorded saying.
Johnson claims Bases went into her bedroom and came out with a knife.
Johnson could also be heard saying he didn't plan to kill the woman. "I was supposed to hurt her badly," Johnson said. "I didn't intend to kill her."
Johnson also said that he "threw away the knife and clothes" he was wearing. "My blood is there," Johnson tells Linnebur. "It is everywhere. I put my hand on her."
Linnebur ends the conversation saying she feels sorry for Johnson. "I'm sorry for whatever happens to you," Linnebur said. "I wanted to believe you had nothing to do with this."
Throughout the taped conversation, Johnson at times is crying uncontrollably and at other times has his emotions in check and is calm. Quinn listened to the taped conversation, which is less than 10 minutes, to rule on whether the jury can use a transcript of the tape when deliberating. Johnson's attorney, Norm Townsend, objected to allowing the jury to use a transcript.
"The tape speaks for itself," Townsend said.
The defense attorney also claims the transcript is not an accurate rendition of the tape. Townsend said the Steamboat Springs Police Department prepared the transcript and uses the word "murder" instead of "intend to hurt her" in the transcript.
Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Paul McLimans said the transcript is needed to assist the jury members when they listen to the conversation. Quinn ruled jurors can use a transcript, but McLimans is going to have to show the document is a fair and accurate rendition of the conversation. McLimans said he will "authenticate" the transcript when Capt. Richard Crotz is called to testify today.
Crotz and Sgt. Joel Rae taped the conversation when they were at Linnebur's home to question her about Johnson.
Crotz is one of the prosecution's last witnesses in its case against Johnson. Since Oct. 31, prosecutors have called about 30 witnesses and submitted more than 100 exhibits into evidence. Prosecutors are confident they will wrap up their portion of the trial today, and then it will be Johnson's attorneys' turn to call witnesses and present their case.