OC Serial Killer Gets His New Home Wish: Death Row

Billy Joe Johnson in a rare moment when he wasn’t in prison

On the day he didn’t bother to spike his Mohawk (with jailhouse soap) or tuck in his white button down shirt, Costa Mesa serial killer Billy Joe Johnson received the death penalty recommendation from a somber jury of eight men and four women. Johnson accepted the outcome of the hearing, which took less than six minutes, with the same aplomb he’s exhibited during the month-long proceedings. The white supremacist gang member of Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PEN1) smiled at the verdict, which he lobbied for during a sensational witness stand appearance earlier this week.

“Billy Joe genuinely doesn’t care,” defense lawyer Michael Molfetta told reporters as his client was being shipped back to Theo Lacy Jail to await formal sentencing on November 20. “A lot of people say they don’t care. It’s truly genuine with him . . . Billy Joe’s fine. He’s at peace with it . . . He was the one telling me not to get misty.”

Though he had almost no issues for his side of the case, Molfetta strenuously sought to win Johnson a life-in-prison-sentence without the possibility of parole. Johnson told jurors that he preferred to live on death row at San Quentin State Prison rather than return to what he believes is much tougher security housing at Pelican State Bay Prison.

According to jury foreman John Pearson, a 51-year-old Santa Ana resident, the initial vote was 11-1 for the death penalty this morning. Pearson said one panelist wanted to give Johnson the life sentence, reasoning that if the killer wanted death row he wasn’t going to give it to him. Discussions followed and the man switched his vote.

“The death penalty really was the only punishment that equals what he’s done,” said Pearson. “The only thing he cares about is that he doesn’t die before his mother.”

Veteran homicide prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, who yesterday gave one of the best closing arguments I’ve seen in more than 20 years, said the jury did the “right thing.”

But Molfetta, a former Orange County prosecutor, said there’s no cause for celebration.

“At the end of the day nobody should rejoice in [this verdict]–whether he deserves it or not,” he said. “I asked [Johnson], ‘Doesn’t this bother you at all?’ and he said, ‘Twenty years ago it would have but I’ve hardened.’ I said, ‘I’ve noticed, Billy.'”

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