An Ogden pediatrician in jail for causing a woman's death by drug overdose originally told investigators he believed she had been injected with cancer from a gay man associated with witches.
Sunset Police Chief Phil Olmstead says Dr. Sherman Johnson's account was among the factors the made the case intriguing and difficult.Olmstead said the case was complicated by the past psychological problems of the victim, but he believes the evidence was substantial enough to gain a conviction for second-degree homicide.
Instead, Johnson pleaded guilty to manslaughter in April. The South Ogden man is serving 90 days in the Davis County Jail, followed by one year of home confinement.
Donna Marie Jones, 33, died in October 1989 while Johnson was in her Sunset home. Johnson admitted to giving her daily doses of the painkiller Demerol over a six-month period.
Johnson filed a death certificate stating Jones died of natural causes related to cancer, but investigators exhumed Jones' body in February 1990, and an autopsy showed no sign of cancer and revealed she died from a Demerol overdose.
Police were first tipped off that Jones may not have died of natural causes by nurse DaNece Fickett, who had cared for Jones.
"With the information she gave me and with her background, I felt we needed to get some documentation that she (Jones) did have cancer," Olmstead told the Standard-Examiner.
Before interviewing Johnson, investigators checked with hospitals to determine where the woman may have been diagnosed. Although church members told police they regularly took Jones to the University of Utah Health Sciences Center late at night for what she told them was chemotherapy treatments, there was no record of her having received them.
It was then that Olmstead interviewed Johnson, who said Jones told him she had been in a coven of witches and the witches had directed a member of a gay underground group to kill her and make her death seem natural.
This unidentified gay man had injected her with cancer, Johnson claimed Jones told him, according to Olmstead.
Olmstead said Johnson told him he believed Jones' story.
But Dr. John H. Ward, a specialist in treating cancer and blood diseases at the University of Utah hospital, said he knows of no incident in which anyone has developed cancer by injection.
Olmstead said the Davis County prosecutor struck a plea bargain with Johnson to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter.
Carvel Harward, lead prosecutor in the case, said his "personal, private belief and interpretation of the evidence is that Dr. Johnson deliberately killed Donna Jones."
But, he said, due to the complexity of the case, he and the other 11 state, county and federal prosecutors who reviewed the case agreed the manslaughter charge was proper.
"By the time you put out both sides of the case side by side, the possibility was very high that the jury would have returned a verdict of manslaughter," Harward said.
Harward, who praised Olmstead's investigation, said 2nd District Judge Douglas Cornaby's pronouncement of sentence included "a greater condemnation of Donna Jones than of Dr. Johnson," which was what he feared would have happened had the case gone to trial.
"I don't care to comment, and I hope Olmstead does the same," Johnson's attorney, Robert Van Sciver, said of the police chief's statements. "I hope this can all be finally put to rest."
Jones, a longtime friend of Johnson's family, had been diagnosed with multiple personalities.
"My contention all along is that he had been aware that she had been diagnosed with multiple personalities, and that some of the personalities were capable of bizarre behavior and drug addiction," Olmstead said.
"At any period of time in dealing with her from April 1989, if he would have placed her in a facility, she would have been alive today," Olmstead said. "But instead he kept giving her pain medication. At the end of her life, he gave her one final injection that killed her. It wasn't cumulative."