Michael Johnson

Crime Files

Michael Dewayne Johnson was born in McLennan County, Texas on 5 May 1977. His arrest sheet listed his occupation as labourer and he was 19-years-old at the time of committing murder on 10 September 1996.

The Aftermath

After the verdict, Johnson sat on death row in a prison in Huntsville, Texas, for 10 years. He received several stays of execution and lodged numerous appeals. Central to his case was a supposed confession, signed by Vest, after the two were arrested.Johnson’s attorney appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that Vest’s confession had been improperly suppressed by the prosecutors. Police later explained that the two men had both been indicted as if they were the shooters; Vest’s signature was to affirm that the indictment was correct and was not in any way a confession.The court’s verdict was affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1997 and a judicial review appeal to the Supreme Court was denied in 1998. An application for a writ of habeas corpus was denied in 2000. Three other appeals and attempts at judicial review were lodged but all failed.Johnson’s date for execution was finally set at 6pm on 19 October 2006. He was put on suicide watch for 36 hours before his execution, in keeping with normal procedure, and was checked every 15 minutes.At 2.45am on 19 October 2006, Johnson was found in a pool of blood in his cell. He had sliced open an artery in his arm with a blade attached to a wooden ice-cream stick and had written in blood on the wall, “I did not shoot him”. He had then slashed his throat with the homemade knife.Johnson was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead, aged 29, on 19 October 2006.

Timeline

Born 27 May 1977The Victim 10 September 1996 - Jeff Wetterman, 27Arrested 13 September 1996Trial 29 November 1996 - indicted for murder before a McLennan County grand juryConvicted 6 May 1997 – First degree murderSentenced 8 May 1997 – Death by lethal injectionDied 19 October 2006 – Committed suicide 15 hours before scheduled execution

The Arrest

On 11 September 1996, Vest saw a news item on the murder on television. He told his mother his version of events, stating that Johnson had shot the man at the service station.Vest and Johnson were arrested on 13 September 1996. A police officer said: “Johnson is one of the worst individuals I’ve ever come in contact with. He just hates life, he hates people.”

The Crimes

On 9 September 1996, his 17th birthday, David Noel Vest went to visit 19-year-old Michael Johnson at his house in Balch Springs, near Dallas, Texas. At the house Vest noticed a 9mm pistol on a table.Later that day Vest was at home when some other friends dropped by in a stolen Cadillac. Vest went out with his friends, driving them each to their homes until he was the last one left in the car. Vest then saw Johnson in a parking lot, talking on a public telephone. He pulled over and picked up his friend and the two drove to Johnson’s house. Johnson went inside and returned with the 9mm pistol tucked into the waistband of his trousers. The pair drove around for a while then headed towards the Texas coast during the night, aiming to spend the following day at the beach, at Corpus Christi, to celebrate Vest’s birthday.Near the town of Waco the pair noticed the car was running low on fuel. Not having any money, they decided to make a “gas run’’; filling up the car with petrol and then speeding off without paying. Johnson took the wheel and they drove to two separate service stations but decided against them as targets. Their next option was a Fastime service station with convenience store, near an Interstate 35 exit ramp in Lorena, Texas. The service station was a family business, run by 27-year-old Jeff Wetterman. Wetterman, a tall man of 6 foot 7 inches, had been married just three weeks earlier. His widow, Trish Wetterman McLean, later described her husband as “a gentle person (with) a big heart and a big smile”.At around 7am on 10 September 1996, Vest and Johnson drove onto the forecourt of the Fastime service station. Wetterman came out to fill the car with petrol, as was custom at the full-service station. Knowing they did not have money to pay for the $24 worth of fuel, and presumably afraid that Wetterman would alert the police if they drove off, one of the two young men shot Wetterman in the face with the pistol. A female employee of the Fastime would later testify that after the sound of the shot, she looked out and saw Wetterman sitting on the ground with a blond-haired man standing beside the passenger door of the Cadillac. The bullet had severed Wetterman’s spinal cord and he was dying. Vest and Johnson would each later claim it was the other who shot and killed Wetterman.The pair then drove to Corpus Christi. They sold the gun to a trucker for $35, which they used to buy petrol, drinks and cigarettes and then returned to the Dallas area later that day.

The Trial

Vest pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and received an eight-year prison sentence. Part of his plea bargain was that he would testify against Johnson.Johnson was indicted for murder before a McLennan County grand jury on 29 November 1996.Vest testified that at the service station, he had exited the car from the passenger’s side and begun filling the car with petrol. Wetterman had come out to assist and had begun talking to Vest. Johnson had then exited the car from the driver’s side and had walked to the back of the vehicle. Vest had asked him if he had the gun on him, to which Johnson had responded by lifting his shirt to display the pistol tucked into his trousers. As Vest had replaced the petrol pump, he heard a shot and had looked around to see Wetterman falling to the ground. Vest and Johnson had hurried into the car and sped away.Another friend testified that Johnson had bragged about the incident in the following days. He said Johnson had admitted to the shooting, saying he shot Wetterman in the face after he thought he heard Vest say “Shoot’’. Other friends testified that Johnson made fun of Vest for crying after the incident.Johnson initially tried to say that he had an alibi and was at home on the day of the murder but after his arrest he admitted to a psychologist that he had been present at the time of the killing. Physical evidence also placed him at the scene, in the form of DNA collected from hairs and cigarette ends found in the Cadillac.At trial, Johnson did not testify in his own defence but later told reporters that Vest had murdered Wetterman. Johnson maintained that he had been driving but had remained in the car while Vest got out to fill the car with petrol. Johnson said he did not even see Wetterman. He claimed that Vest shot the attendant and then yelling, “Go, go, go!” jumped back into the car.Whilst Johnson had no previous convictions, several witnesses described violent incidents in his past. His former girlfriend said he that he had beaten her after accusing her of ‘sleeping around’. Other friends testified that Johnson had attacked a man with a knife; aimed a gun at a neighbour during a confrontation; attempted to run a man over and had once run over a cat and then reversed over it to ensure that it was dead. A man testified that Johnson had responded, “So what?” when told the victim in his murder trial was married.On 6 May 1997, Johnson was found guilty of murder. Two days later he was sentenced to death by lethal injection. As the verdict was read out, he turned and screamed obscenities at the Wetterman family.