Last weekend, the Vanguard reported on what appeared by all accounts to be a homicide in Davis. But in a rather unusual move, the Yolo County DA’s office determined that they did not have enough evidence yet to charge John Johnson with the murder of 37-year-old Crystal Apodaca – so while he is held on a violation of probation, the DA awaits the autopsy report.
In the meantime, we still have very limited information about the case.
What I found interesting is that the Davis Enterprise decided to go into the jailhouse on Monday evening, per their report, and interview Mr. Johnson about what happened. This is in fact the second time in the last few weeks that they had done that – the previous time, they interviewed Frank Rees.
While there is nothing unlawful about doing that, bear in mind that most defense attorneys would advise their clients not to talk to the media. Why? For a number of reasons – anything that a person says can and will be used against them in a court of law.
There is a reason why attorneys advise their clients to remain silent when the police want to question them, and part of it is to prevent conflicting statements that can be used to discredit them in court.
This isn’t just a protection against liars and guilty people either. We know from research on memory that people do not have complete recollections of events that took place. They may forget details that they may remember later, they may have false details implanted in their memory. And if Mr. Johnson was indeed intoxicated, his memory is likely to be all the more foggy.
Moreover, the jail is not a good place to have conversations with people who are not your attorneys because the conversations are likely to be recorded. And, while normally a journalist can use the shield law to protect off-the-record statements, in jail there is no such thing as off-the-record.
A few years ago I was subpoenaed to give an account of a story I did on a family accused of stealing their own vehicle from a repossession agent. Through the help of an attorney we were able to get the judge to limit questions to what I had written rather than allow the DA to fish for incriminating evidence in our background conversations. In jail, there is no such protection.
Any attorney would have likely advised Mr. Johnson not to speak to a reporter while his case was pending, but the Enterprise seems to have approached him – as they did Frank Rees – prior to the point when an attorney was appointed to represent him.
Speaking to a reporter on the record in this case certainly was not in the best interest of Mr. Johnson. But he was approached while in custody and without the benefit of counsel.
And, in this particular case, it does not even seem to be in the best interest of the public. This week, the Vanguard was commented on by multiple family members of the victim – from what they told me, clearly they did not have a lot of information as to what happened. Some of them clearly questioned the account of the defendant here.
In his account, Mr. Johnson admitted to using methamphetamine with the victim on that Wednesday night. He claimed to have been dating her for a month.
He said that she did more meth than usual, that he passed out and thought she did too. He said that when he woke up, she was dead. He then said he panicked and moved the body.
Based on this account, some of our readers commented that this seemed like an overdose. But this didn’t make a lot of sense to us either.
Why didn’t this make sense? The police are always encountering overdoses and deaths due to overdoses. I have been covering the news in Davis for a decade now – and I cannot recall a single case where the police arrested and charged someone with a homicide, only to find out it was an overdose.
They had to have a reason to believe this was a homicide.
The police are extremely tight with information regarding ongoing investigations. But what we were able to find out is that the physical evidence does not match the story that Mr. Johnson has provided. This again gets to the propriety of the news media soliciting a story from a defendant with pending charges.
Second, there are inconsistencies in the story that he has told.
Third, the body was moved (which by itself could be sufficient to trigger charges) and evidence may have been destroyed.
The key evidence will be the cause of death that will be established in the autopsy report. If that comes back as an overdose, then perhaps it is true that Mr. Johnson simply panicked. But if it comes back as another cause of death, things will get more interesting.
But that appears to be the critical evidence and we need to remember, even us skeptics, that there was a reason the police arrested him in the first place and that information did not come out in the statement by Mr. Johnson.
—David M. Greenwald reporting