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Teenager convicted of killing parents

Sarah Johnson awaits the verdict in her trial Wednesday at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise in this image from video.  
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Sarah Johnson awaits the verdict in her trial Wednesday at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise in this image from video. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
John Miller Associated Press

BOISE – Prosecutors will seek life in prison for an Idaho teen convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday in the shooting deaths of her parents.

They say Sarah Johnson, now 18, killed Alan and Diane Johnson in September 2003 in their Bellevue home because they threatened to have her older boyfriend arrested.

Jurors deliberated for about 10 hours over three days beginning Monday.

“We’ll ask for two consecutive life sentences,” Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas said after the verdict. “With the level of premeditation, and the egregious nature of the crimes, she should be spending the rest of her natural life in prison.”

Prosecutors claimed Johnson, then 16, shot her mother in the head with a .264-caliber rifle as she slept in the family’s Bellevue home. They claimed that she then shot her father in the chest as he came out of the shower.

Johnson’s defense attorney, Bob Pangburn, claimed someone else killed the couple and framed the teen for the killings. He refused to comment after the verdict.

Johnson, wearing a pink sweater and dark slacks, trembled and cried before and after the verdict as members of her defense team tried to comfort her.

Prosecutors, who chose not to pursue the death penalty because of her age, called Johnson a selfish, self-absorbed killer who shot her parents out of a “fantasy” to marry her older lover and live off her parents’ inheritance money.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 19-20. The judge is bound by Idaho law to sentence the girl to life terms in prison for each murder count, with a minimum of 10 years served on each count before she can be considered for parole.

“I don’t know what the defense plans to put on the table as far as mitigating factors, but the facts of the case provide all we need for aggravation,” said Blaine County Deputy Prosecutor Justin Whatcott, of the sentencing hearing.

Aggravating factors in the case could increase her punishment, prosecutors said.

“It’s bittersweet, but it was a just decision,” said Pat Dishman, Diane Johnson’s mother, following the verdict. “But it’s very hard. We love Sarah, too.”

Ever since Johnson’s arrest in late October 2003, Dishman said, family members hoped the girl would confess.

“I hope that someday, Sarah will find peace,” she said.

Some family members who attended a wedding at the Johnson home one week before the slayings say they didn’t get any indication that something was amiss. Lynn Murrill, Alan Johnson’s sister, described her younger brother as a “family man” who tried to conceal any personal turmoil.

During the trial, prosecutors said Sarah Johnson “hated” her mother. Murrill said she suspected the teen was involved almost immediately following the murders.

“But I never thought it was ever to the point that she was the one who pulled the trigger,” said Murrill, an Arlington, Ore., resident who missed only one day of the trial. “Now, I have to believe that she was the sole person. But it’s difficult to believe.”

The six-week trial has cost Blaine County more than $1 million, as witnesses flew in from across the United States. The trial was moved to Boise after the judge ruled there was little chance of finding unbiased jurors in Blaine County.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s former boyfriend, Bruno Santos, may be deported back to Mexico. He was initially deported after the killings but returned to testify against Johnson.

Evidence was stacked in the prosecution’s favor. A bloody bathrobe owned by the girl was found in a trash can at the family’s house after the killings, marked with traces of gunpowder.

A latex glove holding Sarah Johnson’s DNA was also found in the can, which authorities narrowly stopped from being picked up by the local garbage service. Bloody bullets were found in Johnson’s bedroom.

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