Will An OC Jury Send A Costa Mesa Serial Killer to Death Row?
Lisping serial killer Billy Joe Johnson (pictured) walked into Orange County Superior Court today in a seemingly relaxed mood despite the shackles, handcuffs and extra security. An animated, wide-eyed smile appeared on Johnson's prison pale face when he saw his defense lawyer, Michael Molfetta. In court, the 46-year-old white supremacist gang member, Nazi lover and career criminal from Costa Mesa often looks like the guest of honor at a backyard beer picnic.
But that carefree mood visibly changed during prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh's 105-minute closing argument. With his right hand over his heart, Baytieh stood in front of the jury and said, "You've heard things that aren't pleasant. There's only one appropriate punishment in this case. Come back with the death penalty. This is serious. But make no mistake. In this courtroom sits a cold-blooded, black-hearted evil doer. A cold-blood serial killer. Make no mistake about that. And he's not done yet."
As Baytieh displayed gruesome, vomit-enticing photographs of three of five murder victims in the case, Johnson picked ear wax with his right index finger, looked bored, repeatedly stretched his arms and yawned as if he was emerging from a long nap. He made a point of staring at the sickening crime scene photos of his victims and audibly sighing to emphasize his apparent boredom.
For his part, Baytieh was unamused that the defense attempted to blame the California Department of Corrections (CDC) for crimes committed by Johnson, a ranking member of Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PEN1).
"Nobody put a gun to Mr. Johnson's head to make him commit crimes," he said. "He kept sending himself back and back and back and back and back to prison. He did that by his own choice . . . the CDC is not on trial here."
Testifying for himself yesterday, Johnson hemmed and hawed but essentially sided with Baytieh's view that the jury should select the death penalty. To insure that decision, he voluntarily admitted that he's killed two additional men and evaded responsibility. As if he was ordering breakfast, he also acknowledged that he's currently attempting to execute rival skinhead gang members in California.
Such a client didn't leave Molfetta, a former prosecutor, an avalanche of pro-defense material to keep Johnson off death row.
"He's incapable of appreciating what he has done," Molfetta said. "It's not because he's crazy but it's how he's wired . . . It's a mental defect."
He told jurors they "don't have the right" to "get indignant" and want revenge against Johnson, whose body is covered in pro-Hitler tattoos.
"If you come back with the death penalty, so be it," said Molfetta, who went on to tell jurors that by giving Johnson a life sentence "you are not excusing anything, feeling compassion for him or minimizing anything he's done."
The jury is now deciding Johnson's fate.
(Don't forget to see tomorrow's more indepth story about the trial in OC Weekly.)
--R. Scott Moxley
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