Victim's mom thinks daily of shootings as execution nears

Tuesday, January 8, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A decade has passed since James R. Johnson held California, Mo., in terror through the cross hairs of a sniper's rifle.

But Ruby Teel said she still thinks of the shooting rampage every day. Her daughter Pam Jones, wife of Moniteau County Sheriff Kenny Jones, was shot to death through her living room window as she read a Christmas story to a Bible class.

"We see our grandchildren and can only think about what they missed because their mother wasn't there," said Teel, 71, of Columbia, Mo., who praises Kenny Jones, still serving as sheriff, for his dedication in raising the couple's four children.

Pam Jones, 38, was the second of four people slain during what Johnson's defense team described as Vietnam combat flashbacks spanning Dec. 9-10, 1991.

Just over a decade later, Missouri is preparing to execute Johnson, 52, by injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the Potosi Correctional Center.

A petition for clemency is pending before Gov. Bob Holden, who so far sees no reason to delay the execution, spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said Monday.

The clemency petition says that while Johnson does not deny pulling the trigger in the four slayings, he has been a spiritual leader on death row and should be allowed to live behind bars, said defense attorney Chuck Gordon.

Johnson's rampage held California, Mo., in terror during one of the largest manhunts in Missouri history. Citizens stayed behind locked doors and kept firearms close by while officers scoured the community for Johnson, then a helicopter mechanic for the Missouri National Guard.

The shootings started the night of Dec. 9 at Johnson's home near Jamestown, Mo., where Moniteau County deputy Les Roark had gone on a domestic disturbance call. Johnson contended that he was having Vietnam flashbacks as he picked off uniformed officers in sniper style around California.

After Roark's shooting, prosecutors said, Johnson targeted law enforcement officers who had rushed to California to assist local officials. Also slain were Cooper County Sheriff Charles R. Smith and Miller County deputy Sandra Wilson.

"It was such a heartless thing to do to four families," Teel said.

Johnson was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder in 1993 for what Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon recently called "inflicting a night of terror on an entire community."

The Johnson case received national attention when then-U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., cited a Missouri Supreme Court dissent in opposing the nomination of the court's only black member to a federal judgeship.

Judge Ronnie White had disagreed with the majority of Missouri's highest court when it upheld Johnson's conviction and death sentence. White said Johnson's trial lawyers botched his defense.

Ashcroft said the dissent showed White tended to side with criminals and was too liberal for a lifetime appointment in the federal judiciary. Democrats used Ashcroft's criticism of White to blast the former senator when he was nominated by President Bush as attorney general, the post he now holds.

Among White's critics was Sheriff Jones. Teel said the sheriff and his two adult sons plan to watch the execution. Jones declined an interview request Monday.

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