Despite defense claims of prosecutorial misconduct, the California Supreme Court today affirmed the conviction and death penalty punishment for Billy Joe Johnson, a now legendarily wild Orange County white supremacist and killer.
A 2009 jury convicted Johnson—a member of the Nazi-loving, criminal street gang Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PEN1)—for the 2002, ambush, handgun murder of Anaheim’s Scott Miller, a fellow hoodlum, who broke underworld rules by giving an on-camera interview to a Los Angeles television news station.
Johnson—a product of a working-class Costa Mesa neighborhood, Adolf Hitler’s musings and a methamphetamine addiction—is known also to have killed at least two other individuals—Clyde Nordeen (pick axe) and Cory Lamons (claw hammer)—in savage, sneak-attack fashion.
During his sensational trial, a gang of sheriff’s deputies escorted a heavily-shackled Johnson into the courtroom reminiscent of precautions taken for Hannibel Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. A young, Asian female juror had the misfortune of being seated closest to the killer, who visibly suggested he hadn’t been in the company of the opposite sex in eons. Through the prominent gap in his mouth where you’d usually expect front teeth, an aroused, wide-eyed Johnson smiled at the trembling woman before darting his tongue in and out of his facial orifice. To underscore his delight at her presence, he then chuckled in an otherwise silent courtroom.
Yes, Johnson is a colorful, unforgettable character whose been clinically declared a “psychopath,” which is why it wasn’t shocking that he literally begged the jury to give him death.
Sure, insane ideas routinely bounce around his skull, but the punishment request was soberly practical. This man, who’d spent more than 25 of his then-46 years on the planet locked up, argued from experience that life in prison without the possibility for parole inside Pelican Bay State Prison would be a far more painful existence than a trip to San Quentin State Prison’s death row, where inmates enjoy more privileges.
Johnson’s appellate lawyer told the Supreme Court that Ebrahim Baytieh, the homicide prosecutor in the case, committed misconduct in his closing argument by individually addressing jurors and posing a question about the defendant’s lifelong crime spree: “Are you indignant yet?”
The court determined that the defense forfeited the argument by failing to object to the tactic during the trial.
The judges did, however, split on whether Superior Court Judge William Froeberg improperly allowed Lamons’ mother to testify during the penalty phase for the Miller killing. Justices Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, Goodwin H. Lui and Leondra R. Kruger opined that the testimony was “irrelevant” to the last murder and its inclusion, as authorized by the court’s majority opinion, represents an unwise expansion of prosecutorial moves not permitted in other jurisdictions. But the minority called the miscue “harmless” to affirm the punishment.
Right about now, Johnson’s fans—yes, he has them—are trying to relay messages of his triumph. When they succeed, he’ll likely snort a few times and, with that trademark hillbilly lisp, joyously utter profanity before his tongue dances outside of his mouth. The 52-year-old thug gets to remain where he wants: With about 60 other Orange County killers ahead of him on the state’s execution list.
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.