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Vernal woman, 75, sentenced to prison in husband's slaying

VERNAL — Evelyn Johnson is either a battered wife who finally had enough and fatally shot the man who she said abused her, or she is a deliberate killer who gunned down her estranged husband after he filed for divorce.

On Thursday, 8th District Judge A. Lynn Payne said he believed the latter and sentenced Johnson to serve one to 15 years in prison for the Aug. 24, 2004, shooting death of Alan Lavoy Johnson.

Evelyn Johnson, 75, had initially been charged with murder, a first-degree felony. She pleaded guilty in December to an amended charged of manslaughter, a second-degree felony.

"He hurt my family and he used my family to hurt me," Johnson told Payne, referring to unreported incidents of domestic violence that she claims were committed by her estranged husband.

Evelyn Johnson was served with divorce papers on the day before she drove to the camp trailer where Alan Johnson, 71, was living. He invited her in and served her coffee.

But as the couple sat and talked about what would be their second divorce from one another, investigators say Evelyn Johnson pulled out a .22-caliber handgun and shot her husband at least five times.

"He said, 'No! No! Don't do that!'" Uintah County Attorney G. Mark Thomas said Thursday, reading from a statement Evelyn Johnson made to investigators immediately after the shooting.

"He stood up and she continued to shoot him," Thomas said.

The prosecutor noted that one of the shots struck Alan Johnson behind one of his ears.

"She planned this and she executed her plan and Mr. Johnson died as a result of it," Thomas said.

Johnson initially told authorities she shot her husband because she feared the financial problems she would suffer if he divorced her, court records state. Alan Johnson had apparently insisted on a prenuptial agreement of some kind before the couple remarried.

But in subsequent interviews, Evelyn Johnson said her husband had been physically and verbally abusive. She had filed for a protective order against him one week before the shooting, and her daughter also claimed that Alan Johnson had abused her mother throughout their 20 years of marriage, although there were no reports of domestic violence to police.

During Thursday's hearing, the judge commented on the disparity in Johnson's accounts of her motive for the shooting.

"It says you were concerned he was going to leave you with nothing," Payne said, reading from one of Johnson's statements to investigators. "You told them, 'Well, I had to do something.'

"Under those circumstances, I don't think there's any question about (motive)," Payne added.

Johnson's competency to stand trial was questioned soon after her arrest. She was initially deemed incompetent and was twice committed to the Utah State Hospital for treatment. She was deemed competent to proceed to trial in May.

Defense attorney Michael Humiston asked Payne to take Johnson's age and "frailty" into account, saying she posed a low risk to re-offend.

"She's 75 years old," Humiston said. "She's not going to go out and do anything of this sort again."

But Payne said he found it "bothersome" that Johnson would seek to cast herself as the victim in the case and sentenced her to prison. He did grant Johnson credit for the jail time she's served since April, but denied a defense request that she also be given credit for the time she spent at the Utah State Hospital.

"The doctor said she was malingering," Payne said.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik