Fort Collins Thomas Lee Johnson's defense attorney told a Larimer County jury Thursday morning that her client indeed killed Lori Bases in her Steamboat Springs home in May 2000 but that he did not plan the attack.
"Thomas Johnson chose to fight for his life, and at the end of that fight, Lori Bases was dead," Stephanie Hewitt said during the opening statements of Johnson's murder retrial.
The 1988 Longmont High School graduate was convicted in Bases' stabbing death in 2001, but the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that the jury was given faulty instructions and overturned the conviction.
After two days of jury selection, the retrial opened Thursday in Larimer County, the venue where Johnson originally was tried after the trial was moved from Routt County in 2001.
Prosecutors think Johnson rented an SUV and traveled to Steamboat Springs with the intent to kill Bases because, prosecutors say, he believed she was a threat to his relationship with her friend Kim Goodwin.
The trial is scheduled through June 26.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Kerry St. James methodically unfolded a story about Johnson and Goodwin's on-again, off-again relationship, during which Goodwin accused Johnson of raping her.
Goodwin and Johnson met when he answered a classified advertisement she placed seeking a roommate to share her Longmont home, St. James said. The landlord-tenant relationship soon grew intimate, but the couple struggled with differences that would periodically break them up.
During one attempted reconciliation in April 2000, Goodwin ended up at Longmont United Hospital with injuries from an apparent sexual assault. She told doctors, and later Weld County deputies, that Johnson had forced her to have anal sex with him at her home.
After that incident, Goodwin went to Steamboat Springs to spend time with Bases. She then returned to Longmont.
By May 9, 2000, Bases and Goodwin had plans to move in together, prosecutors said. However, St. James said, Johnson had been on a campaign to get Goodwin to drop the sexual assault charges and resume their relationship.
Prosecutors allege that Johnson - agitated that Bases disapproved of his relationship with Goodwin because of the assault and upset that the women planned to move in together - rented an SUV, drove to Steamboat Springs and confronted Bases in her apartment. Bases' boyfriend discovered her body May 12, 2000. She had multiple stab and slash wounds.
After Bases' death, Johnson and Goodwin reconciled, married in Las Vegas and moved to California. While living in California, Goodwin found evidence she thought connected her new husband to Bases' murder and called police. He soon was arrested.
Defense attorney Hewitt said prosecutors were wrong about Johnson's motive and plans for the death. She said he went to Steamboat Springs to try to talk Bases into serving as Goodwin's maid of honor for their wedding and she - paranoid from cocaine use - charged at him with a knife.
"Lori Bases attacked Thomas, and he did what he had to do to protect himself," she said. "It is true that Thomas Johnson killed Lori Bases, but he did it in a frenzy of fear."