Witness describes trail of abduction, beatings

June 04, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The trial of Mark A. Johnson began Tuesday with testimony from a co-defendant who told a sordid tale of violence and ineptness as she and the defendant drove around in a stolen car with a man they thought was dead in the trunk while they attempted to buy crack cocaine.

Johnson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without a recommendation of mercy if convicted on charges of kidnapping and attempted first-degree murder.

Defense attorney David A. Camilletti asked the jurors in his opening statements to keep an open mind.

Most of the day was spent in jury selection. Defense attorneys had earlier asked that the trial be moved, saying they believed news accounts of Johnson being charged with two counts of sexual assault on another male inmate at the Eastern Regional Jail would make it impossible for him to get a fair trial.


But only one member of the jury pool said she had read news stories about the case. She was removed from the panel.

Co-defendant Tammy Reel, 32, who is testifying for the prosecution as part of a plea agreement, said she and Johnson had decided to get out of the area on Aug. 2, 1996, because they both faced legal troubles.

Reel had violated her bond when she had failed a drug test and was expecting to be held in jail while awaiting trial on a federal charge of maintaining a crack house, she said.

Johnson was facing an assault charge on Reel, she said.

The two had known each other since 1993 and had smoked crack cocaine regularly together, Reel said. They had been lovers for some time and she was five months pregnant with his child at the time, she testified.

Neither had a car, so they asked his mother to drive them to Frederick, Md. She dropped them off and Reel said she convinced a motel clerk at a Days Inn to give them a room although she had no identification, she said

They talked of stealing a car from a service station and Johnson told her they would have to kill the driver, Reel said.

She said she did not want to do that, but later agreed to convince a man to take her back to the motel room so they could steal his car.

At a convenience store in Frederick, she persuaded Donald Milligan, of Gaithersburg, Md., to drive her back to the motel, where they talked in the room, Reel testified.

"I know in the back of my head the man thought we were going to have sex in the room," Reel said. "It was never discussed. I'm a woman. I know what he was thinking."

Milligan was attacked from behind and was choked unconscious though she and Johnson thought he was dead, she said.

Johnson left to bring the car around to the room, but came back because he was unable to find the right key, she said. Milligan, who works for a car dealership, had many keys on his chain, she said.

Reel said she brought the car around as Johnson dragged Milligan down the stairs.

They couldn't figure out which key opened the trunk, so she opened a back car door to put him in the back seat, she said. She had parked next to a bush and the door barely opened, but Johnson managed to force Milligan into the back seat as a woman in a truck drove by them, apparently without seeing what they were doing, Reel testified.

"It just seemed at that time the whole world was staring at us," she said.

Later, Milligan began to regain consciousness, so Johnson pulled over, beat him and put him in the trunk, Reel said.

A few times during her testimony, she started to weep as she described what was done to Milligan.

She and Johnson drove around with Milligan in the trunk in Frederick and Jefferson County as they went from house to house looking for crack cocaine to buy or a party to go to, Reel said.

At one point they discussed going to New York City, but a friend they picked up said they couldn't go because they did not have enough beer or crack for the trip, Reel said.

Throughout the night they searched for drugs until Johnson said he could smell a dead body and that they had to get rid of Milligan, she said.

Johnson initially dropped her off at his mother's home in Jefferson County while he went to dispose of the car and body, Reel said. Johnson told his mother he had a body in the car and then left, Reel said.

He came back, saying the road to the quarry where he wanted to dump the car was blocked with large rocks, Reel said.

They drove together to another quarry, but couldn't find it. Around sunrise, they went down a dirt lane along the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Milligan's body was thrown in, Reel said.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Laurence Crofford said during his opening statement that Milligan, fearing it was "his last day on earth," played dead and stayed under water as long as he could after he was tossed in.

He later surfaced and ran to campers nearby, who phoned for police.

Meanwhile, Johnson and Reel parked Milligan's car at the Martin's store in Charles Town and then called Johnson's mother to pick them up, Reel said.

Johnson was arrested four days later in Jefferson County, authorities have said.

Reel is still awaiting trial for her role in the attack. She and Johnson both face identical charges of attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, bringing stolen property into the state and conspiracy to bring stolen property into the state.

The plea agreement on the kidnapping charges also includes her guilty plea in federal court in April to maintaining a crack house. She faces a possible 40-year prison sentence on that charge.

"Regardless of how much time I've got to spend in prison I've to got live with what I've done and I feel really bad. I just want to tell the truth," Reel said.

Prosecutors today are expected to play a videotape taken by Martin's security cameras of the two of them at Martin's.

The trial continues today.

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