IOWA CITY — Jurors hearing the coming death penalty retrial of former Iowa drug dealer Angela Johnson will decide whether she deserves to die for her role in five murders instead of spending the rest of her life in prison.
U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett said Wednesday that he will instruct jurors that he will impose a sentence of life in prison without parole for Johnson if even one of them does not believe she should be executed. Jurors will not be allowed to consider the possibility of a lesser sentence, he ruled.
The ruling is a victory for Johnson's defense, which argued that jurors could be persuaded to support the death penalty if they believed Johnson could eventually be released.
Johnson, who turns 49 today, is facing a June 3 retrial in federal court in Sioux City to determine the sentence she should get for her role in the 1993 execution-style slayings of three adults and two children in northern Iowa. She had been the first woman sent to federal death row in decades after a jury gave her four death sentences following a 2005 trial.
But Bennett overturned the sentences last year after finding that Johnson's defense was inadequate because her lawyers failed to present evidence about her mental state that could have convinced jurors to spare her life.
Rather than allow Bennett to convert her sentence to life in prison, the U.S. Department of Justice decided to retry the penalty phase of the case and again seek to convince jurors that the appropriate penalty for Johnson's actions is death.
Prosecutors said Johnson and her then-boyfriend, methamphetamine kingpin Dustin Honken, killed two former dealers who were cooperating with a federal investigation into his multistate drug business, one of the dealer's girlfriends and her two children. — AP
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.