Fort Collins During opening statements in Thomas Lee Johnson's murder trial, lawyers gave different versions of the events leading up to the May 2000 death of Lori Bases and the police investigation that followed.
On Wednesday morning, 14th Judicial Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James and Johnson's court-appointed attorney, Norm Townsend, gave powerful opening statements to a 12-member jury.
St. James in his address to the panel portrayed the 31-year-old Johnson as a manipulative man who planned to kill Bases because he felt the Steamboat Springs woman was interfering with his relationship with Kimberly Goodwin. "Lori Bases was a casualty of a dysfunctional relationship between Kim Goodwin and the defendant," St. James said to the jury. St. James also told the jury that after the alleged murder, Johnson tried to cover up the homicide and asked family members to lie to police if they were ever contacted.
Townsend, on the other hand, gave a totally different version of the alleged murder that happened the evening of May 11, 2000. Townsend said his client went to speak to Bases at her Steamboat Boulevard apartment to convince the woman to take part in his and Goodwin's wedding. Townsend claims Bases, in a "paranoid" state of mind induced because of 10 years of recreational cocaine use, attacked Johnson inside her home. "If his sole purpose was to kill Lori Bases, he did an awful job planning it," Townsend said. "He planned no escape. He didn't have homicide in his mind."
Johnson is on trial for first-degree murder. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. He also faces charges of criminal mischief and trespass for allegedly vandalizing Bases' sport utility vehicle about a month before her death.
Johnson's trial is being held at the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins. The case was moved from Routt County because of pretrial publicity. How Bases ended up dead in the living room of her apartment that May evening can be traced back two years earlier in Longmont. It was in Longmont that Johnson and Goodwin met. The two met when Johnson answered an ad in the local newspaper because Goodwin was looking for a roommate. Soon after Johnson moved into the home, they began an intimate relationship, St. James said.
Johnson "repeatedly sought Kim Goodwin to marry him," he said. "It was a rocky relationship. When it was off, Johnson would move out of the shared home. When it was on, he moved back into the home.
"From the very start, he was protective of the relationship."
Townsend went further in describing the couple's relationship. "This was a terribly destructive relationship between the two," Townsend said. "Goodwin desperately wanted to marry Johnson and have his children." The relationship reached a boiling point in the spring of 2000. In April, Goodwin bought a new car against Johnson's wishes and the couple broke up, St. James said.
The conflict reached its peak the evening of April 7. Goodwin agreed to meet Johnson in Denver for dinner. Johnson was living in Denver at the time. During dinner, Johnson asked Goodwin to move with him to Colorado Springs.
After dinner, St. James said Johnson followed Goodwin to her Longmont home.
Inside the home, the two decided to go to sleep in the same bed. Goodwin "was not interested in having sex," but Goodwin would later submit to Johnson "to get it over with," St. James said. During the consensual sexual encounter, Johnson allegedly went too far. Goodwin immediately left the home and went to the emergency room, where she gave authorities a statement that she was sexually assaulted, St. James said.
The next day, April 8, Goodwin talked to Bases and was invited to Steamboat Springs for the weekend.
Goodwin later returned to Longmont on Sunday, April 9. Meanwhile, Johnson had been looking for Goodwin and figured she went to Steamboat Springs. St. James contends Johnson went to Denver International Airport, rented a white Chevrolet Blazer and drove to Steamboat Springs. "When he gets to Steamboat Springs he does not see Goodwin's new Volkswagen," St. James said. "He does see Bases' new Toyota Rav 4. The defendant in a rage cuts the tires. He slashes the seats. He slashes the headliner. He slashes the dashboard and a tire cover." Townsend claims his client rented the Blazer and went to Colorado Springs because he had been transferred by his job, a delivery salesman. "The police eliminated Thomas Johnson as a suspect," Townsend said of the vandalism.
Later in April, Johnson manipulated Goodwin to recant her claim to Weld County authorities that she was sexually assaulted, St. James said. Goodwin later changed her story and charges were never filed. In May, St. James asserts Goodwin broke up with Johnson for good and told him she was planning to move in with Bases.
Townsend claims Johnson and Goodwin had gotten back together and were planning to get married.
On May 11, Johnson rented a silver 2000 Mitsubishi Montero Sport in Denver and drove up to Steamboat Springs to take care "of the woman who could come between him and Goodwin," St. James said.
Townsend claims Johnson drove to Steamboat Springs to try and convince Goodwin to be in their wedding.
Inside the apartment, St. James said Johnson stabbed and slashed Bases more than 20 times.
Bases' neck, chest and legs were stabbed and slashed numerous times, St. James said.
Townsend claims Bases had been effected by the vandalism of her vehicle. "Lori was frightened," Townsend said. "She began sleeping with a butcher's knife by her bed."
Townsend also claims Bases used cocaine for about 10 years and when she used cocaine would become frightened and paranoid.
Townsend claims Bases used cocaine the night before the day of her death. When Johnson appeared at Bases' apartment, he was confronted by a frightened woman.
Townsend claims his client tried to convince Bases he was not a rapist and to participate in the wedding.
"Bases was frightened and she was prepared to do what she had to do," Townsend said. "She attacked Thomas Johnson. Thomas didn't want to die. He flipped out. He did terrible things. He hacked, and he slashed. These were wounds inflicted in fear."
Townsend said his client did not go to the police because he "thought no one would ever believe him."
Johnson returned to Denver, quit his job and drove to Texas. After attempting to get into Mexico, he drove to Wisconsin to stay with his brother. There he obtained a driver's license and applied for a passport using his brother's identity.
Johnson would later return to Colorado and go to Las Vegas with Goodwin. The couple married in Nevada May 28.
The couple later moved to California. Steamboat Springs police began focusing their attention on Johnson after they received a tip from authorities in Wisconsin. Steamboat investigators were told of the driver's license and passport by Johnson's brother, Scott Johnson. Steamboat investigators would later track Johnson down in northern California and interviewed him there June 22. After Goodwin left Johnson, he returned to Steamboat Springs June 23 by bus.
In Steamboat, Johnson was detained by Steamboat authorities and was ordered to give blood, hair and saliva samples.
Johnson was later released, but authorities watched him place calls from pay phones in Steamboat Springs.
Johnson called his ex-wife, Michelle Linnebur, St. James said.
At the time of the call, Capt. Richard Crotz was at Linnebur's home in Byers. Crotz got Linnebur's permission to listen to the conversation, St. James said.
Johnson told the woman he divorced in 1996 he killed Bases, St. James said. Townsend countered that Johnson told the mother of his three children, "I never meant to kill her. I never wanted her to die."