Judge rules on Johnson motions

Accused murderer's ex-wife takes stand

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— Accused murderer Thomas Lee Johnson's ex-wife Kimberly Goodwin may still be his legal wife, said William Schurman, the court-appointed attorney representing Johnson. That could mean her testimony as one of the main witnesses in the murder trial could be curtailed because of rules of marital privilege and spousal disqualification.

Schurman, arguing Monday in a motions hearing to potentially limit Goodwin's testimony in regard to the homicide of Lori Bases and related crimes, said he may bring up supposedly fraudulent claims by Goodwin that she had established residency requirements for the divorce she got from Johnson last year. If the divorce is not valid and the two are still married, Johnson as Goodwin's husband can keep her from testifying about certain kinds of communication between the two of them about the alleged crimes.

Justice Joseph Quinn has not yet ruled on the change of venue motion filed by Norm Townsend, Johnson's court-appointed attorney. He heard testimony from representatives of local media outlets Monday morning to determine if the media coverage of the case has made it virtually impossible for Johnson to get a fair trial in Steamboat Springs. The prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James, argued the media coverage has not been "massive, pervasive and prejudicial," which the defense needs to prove to get the trial moved. The defense argued the publicity has swayed the populace against Johnson and could prove especially damaging given the small jury pool in the county.

Goodwin, who gasped audibly when she heard that she may still be married to Johnson, took the stand Monday in a hearing to establish her relationship with the accused murderer.

She said she was never Johnson's common-law wife, though she did act as his wife at times to help him get to see his children through visitation rights.

"I did not introduce Thomas as my husband to people. He was introduced as my boyfriend," Goodwin said.

The defense presented a number of pieces of evidence that showed Goodwin representing herself as Johnson's common-law wife for two years before their Las Vegas wedding in May 2000.

Justice Joseph Quinn ruled Monday Johnson and Goodwin were in a common-law marriage at the time of the murder and the marital privilege rule could be used.

The marital privilege laws do not preclude a witness from testifying about class one felonies which the first-degree murder charge falls under but could keep Goodwin from testifying in full about lesser charges against Johnson, including criminal trespass and mischief. Johnson is accused of slashing Bases' tires and the interior of her sport utility vehicle before she was murdered.

If the defense goes forward with the claim that Goodwin and Johnson's divorce is not valid, Goodwin's ability to testify on certain matters could be further curtailed.

Quinn also ruled against the defense's wish to potentially present a psychological expert during the trial, because Johnson was unwilling to discuss his mental status before, during or after the time of Bases' homicide with a psychiatrist at a state hospital. Quinn said the defendant was "noncooperative" and the defense should not be able to introduce mental condition testimony by an expert witness, though mental condition testimony in general may still be admitted by non-expert sources. In addition, the prosecution will be able to bring up the "noncooperation" testimony from the state psychiatrist.

The defense has not yet decided whether it will be making arguments based on psychological evidence.

Motions hearings continue today at 10:30 a.m.

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