Mark Johnson found guilty of murder

June 06, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Jefferson County jury found Mark Johnson guilty of kidnapping and attempted first-degree murder Friday afternoon and recommended he be sentenced to life without a chance for parole.

The jury of three men and nine women deliberated for nearly two and a half hours.

Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes set sentencing for July 14. Because of the jurors' no-mercy verdict on the kidnapping charge, Johnson faces a mandatory life term in prison.

Before the verdict was announced at 4:45 p.m., security was beefed up in the courtroom.

During the week, while in a holding cell during breaks, Johnson had cursed at witnesses walking into the building and in one case spit at a woman, according to testimony. About a week before the trial, Johnson was charged with two counts of sexually assaulting a fellow inmate at the Eastern Regional Jail.


Throughout the trial, Johnson wore a Remotely Activated Custody Control device around his waist. A bailiff held a transmitter that could have sent an electrical shock to stun Johnson in the event of a disturbance.

A total of 18 bailiffs, Charles Town Police officers, Jefferson County sheriff's deputies and West Virginia State Police troopers were in the courtroom as the verdict was read.

Johnson stood scowling with his hands in his front pants. As he was led out of the courtroom in chains, Johnson muttered to detectives from the Eastern Regional Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force who had investigated the case.

In addition to the kidnapping charge, Johnson also was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder, bringing stolen property into the state, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to attempt first-degree murder and conspiracy to bring stolen property into the state.

Johnson was convicted in the Aug. 2, 1996, attack on Donald Milligan, 50, of Gaithersburg, Md., after co-defendant Tammy Reel, who testified for the prosecution, lured Milligan into a room at the Days Inn motel.

Believing Milligan was dead, Johnson stuffed him into the back seat of Milligan's car, later moving him to the trunk. Then he and Reel spent the night looking for crack cocaine, Reel testified.

The next morning, Johnson threw Milligan, who was playing dead, into the Potomac River, according to testimony.

During his closing arguments, defense attorney David A. Camilletti argued that the jurors should not find Johnson guilty of kidnapping because at the time he put Milligan in the trunk, he believed Milligan was dead.

He said the kidnapping was incidental to the attempted murder.

Camilletti also told the jurors they should not believe most of Reel's testimony since she was a crack cocaine addict.

Several times during his closing argument, the defense attorney went out of his way to praise the work done by the police, saying they did a "tremendous job" and West Virginia State Police Sgt. Ginger Burcker "led a wonderful investigation."

"(But) nothing the police do can make Tammy Reel tell the truth," Camilletti said.

Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Laurence Crofford said that the evidence gathered at the motel room and the stolen car as well as videotape from Martin's supermarket where Johnson went to get something to eat that morning all corroborated Reel's testimony.

Crofford said in his closing arguments that Johnson's remorseless nature is one reason the jurors should give him life without a recommendation of mercy.

"His day to pay has come," Crofford said, his voice rising.

Crofford recounted how Milligan spent the night in the trunk of his car, wondering whether he would die. He asked the jurors to think about the decision Milligan had to make, to play dead in order to stay alive.

When Milligan was thrown into the Potomac River, he did not know if he would be impaled on tree branches or have his head smashed against rocks below, Crofford said.

"(Johnson) throws a man over a river bank like a piece of trash and then he goes to get breakfast," Crofford said.

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