Johnson to undergo sentencing

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— Convicted murderer Thomas Lee Johnson has spent his last day in Routt County.

After 551 days in the Routt County Jail, Johnson, who was transported early Tuesday morning to Larimer County, will be sentenced to life in prison at 9 a.m. today at the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins.

The 31-year-old Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder and criminal trespass and mischief in November.

Sheriff John Warner said if Justice Joseph P. Quinn, who presided over Johnson's trial, signs the sentencing order today, Johnson will be taken to the Colorado Department of Corrections Diagnostic Center in Denver.

"He will never come back to Routt County," Warner said.

A Larimer County jury, after hearing testimony for nine days, convicted the father of three of killing Lori Bases in May 2000 in her Steamboat Springs apartment.

The jury deliberated for about eight hours over two days before finally rendering a verdict in Routt County's first murder case since 1994.

The jury determined Johnson planned to kill the 31-year-old Bases at her Steamboat Boulevard apartment the evening of May 11, 2000.

The jury also determined Johnson vandalized Bases' sport utility vehicle about a month before she died. About $5,000 in damage was caused to the SUV.

Because Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder, Quinn must sentence Johnson to life in prison without parole.

Although this charge carries a mandatory life sentence, Quinn could not sentence Johnson immediately after the verdict because the sentencing on the criminal trespass and mischief had yet to be determined.

For the mischief charge, Johnson faces between one and 16 years in prison. The trespass charge carries a prison term of between six months and eight years.

Today's sentencing hearing should end a chapter in Steamboat Springs history that had numerous twists and turns.

The jury determined Johnson killed Bases because the woman was interfering with his relationship with Kim Goodwin.

The two women were good friends, and Bases frowned upon her friend's relationship because Johnson allegedly raped Goodwin in April 2000.

Weld County authorities investigated the alleged rape but never filed charges against Johnson because Goodwin recanted her complaint.

Goodwin testified she ended the relationship with Johnson later that month and talked with Bases about moving to California together.

The jury determined Johnson vandalized Bases' sport utility vehicle in April 2000 and then murdered her about a month later. On both days, Johnson rented an SUV in Denver.

Johnson stabbed the woman more than 20 times. Bases' neck was slashed and she was stabbed four times in the heart. Stab and slash wounds were also present on Bases' arms, legs and back. According to an autopsy, Bases bled to death.

After the murder, Johnson was a suspect but authorities did not focus on him until June 2000.

After the murder, Johnson, who was living in Denver at the time, drove to Texas and then to Wisconsin to stay with his brother.

After two weeks, Johnson returned to Longmont, where he grew up, and met up with Goodwin.

The couple got back together and drove to Las Vegas to get married May 28. Goodwin said she married Johnson because she thought he could help her get through the loss of her best friend. The couple later divorced in December 2000.

After getting married, the couple moved to a suburb of Sacramento, Calif. Steamboat Springs police got the break they needed on June 20 when Goodwin called to report she found a rental car receipt that shows Johnson rented an SUV the day Bases was killed.

Steamboat investigators immediately drove out to California and questioned Johnson. After searching Johnson's apartment, investigators returned home.

Johnson was arrested the evening of June 23 when a Greyhound bus made a stop in Steamboat Springs.

Before Johnson was arrested, he made a phone call from a Steamboat payphone to his ex-wife, Michelle Linnebur, who was being interviewed by Steamboat Springs Capt. Richard Crotz.

During the conversation, which Crotz listened to, Johnson admitted he killed Bases.

Johnson claimed he killed the woman in self-defense. Johnson asserted he went to talk to Bases to convince her to be in his and Goodwin's wedding.

Johnson claimed Bases went into her bedroom, got a knife and confronted him. He told Linnebur he protected himself and killed Bases.

Justice Quinn moved the trial to Larimer County because of pretrial publicity in Routt County.

Quinn took over the case when 14th Judicial District Judge Joel S. Thompson recused himself from the case last August.

Thompson left the case because a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, who was involved in the Johnson case, arrested the judge's live-in girlfriend on drug charges stemming from a separate investigation.

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