Johnson gets new trial

Court of Appeals acknowledges error in jury instructions


— Thomas Lee Johnson, convicted in 2001 for the stabbing death of Steamboat Springs resident Lori Bases, was granted a new trial by the Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday.

The Court of Appeals' three-judge panel ruled, by a 2-1 vote, that because of an error in instructions given to the 12-member jury that convicted Johnson, he must be given a new trial.

The three judges agreed there was an error in the set of instructions given to jurors about self-defense. Jurors were incorrectly told that the defendant had the duty to retreat if he was not the initial aggressor in the attack that killed Bases.

Two judges agreed that the instructions were "fatally defective," according to court documents. The third judge agreed that the instruction was faulty, but he said it was a "harmless error" and did not merit the call for another trial.

Attorneys from State Attorney General John Suthers' office represented the the people of Coloradon the case.

"We're disappointed with the outcome," Deputy Attorney General Jason Dunn said Thurs--day. He said attorneys from the office are going to ask the Colorado Court of Appeals for a rehearing.

Deputy Colorado State Pub--lic Defender Ellen Eggleston, who represented Johnson in the case, was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon.

Steamboat Springs police Capt. Bob Del Valle, who was the lead investigator in the Johnson case, said Thursday that the factual basis for the case was very strong.

"We'll just have to do it all over again, and that's all our choices at this point," he said, adding that the 2001 trial took two weeks.

The trial cost the police department $50,000, Director of Public Safety Services J.D. Hays told the Steamboat Today in 2001. It was the most expensive trial since the murder case that preceded it.

Bases' killing marks the most recent murder to occur in Steamboat Springs; it was the city's sixth homicide since 1979.

On May 11, 2000, Bases' roommate, Ron Farmer, found her body. Bases had been stabbed more than 20 times and had wounds all over her body, including her throat, chest, back, arms and legs. An autopsy determined that she bled to death.

Prosecutors argued that Johnson killed Bases because she was interfering with his relationship with his girlfriend, Kimberly Goodwin.

After Bases' death, Johnson and Goodwin went on a trip to Las Vegas, where they married. They moved to Sacramento, Calif., and reached a divorce settlement in Routt County Court in December of that year.

Goodwin said she married Johnson because she thought she could trust him, that he had no involvement in her friend's death and that he would help her deal with the murder, court records stated.

Goodwin and Bases were friends. They met while working together at a Longmont restaurant 10 years before the murder. The two had lived together in Denver.

While in California, Goodwin found a credit card receipt that showed Johnson rented a car in Denver the day Bases was killed. Goodwin immediately called the police and got a restraining order against Johnson.

After meeting with Steam--boat investigators in California, Johnson caught a bus back to Colorado. Because of a tip, Johnson was detained by Steamboat Springs police on June 23, 2001, as he got off the bus at a stop on U.S. Highway 40. Johnson was taken into custody and ordered to give hair and blood samples to authorities.

Johnson was later released, but authorities continued to monitor him. They said they saw Johnson go to three pay phones in Steamboat and make calls.

Police said Johnson placed a phone call to his ex-wife, Michelle Linnebur, whom he divorced in 1996. At the time of the call, Steamboat police Capt. Richard Crotz was at Linnebur's home in Byers and listened in on the conversation. Johnson told his ex-wife that he killed Bases. Johnson was arrested and jailed in Routt County.

A series of delays postponed the trial. In September 2001, Justice Joseph P. Quinn moved the trial from Steamboat to Fort Collins because he said pretrial publicity would make it difficult to select a fair and impartial jury in Routt County.

The trial began in November 2001. Prosecutors argued that Johnson planned the murder and went to Bases' apartment with the intent to kill her. Defense attorneys argued that Johnson was acting in self-defense when he stabbed Bases.

On November 14, a Larimer County jury found Johnson, who was 31 at the time, guilty of first-degree murder. He also was found guilty of criminal trespass and mischief for vandalizing Bases' sport utility vehicle about a month before she was killed. Bases had filed two police reports stating that her tires had been slashed.

In January 2002, Quinn sentenced Johnson to life in prison without parole. Quinn also sentenced Johnson to an additional six years in prison for vandalizing Bases' vehicle.

Bases' mother, Sherry Mes--echer, could not be reached for comment Thursday.


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