Man gets 147 years in prison for kidnapping, carjacking

Courtesy image.

A man who kidnapped and carjacked a La Mesa teen-ager with hypodermic needles held to his neck which he said contained the AIDS virus was sentenced on Nov. 22 to 147 years to life in prison.

“It was the maximum sentence,” said Deputy District Attorney Matthew Carberry.

The complicated sentencing of Thomas Johnson, 40, was imposed by El Cajon Superior Court Judge Evan Kirvin which added staggering terms because of Johnson’s criminal history as a “third strike” defendant.

Johnson does have AIDS, according to his former attorney who informed the court early in his case after charges were filed involving the March 28, 2016 incident to a 17-year-old student from Grossmont High School.

“I will stab you with these needles that have AIDS,” the teen testified that Johnson told him. “He held the needles to my neck.”

A jury convicted Johnson of kidnapping, carjacking, making a criminal threat and car theft involving the teen on March 6. They also convicted him of robbery of an elder, attempted robbery and reckless evasion of police after the victim escaped.

Branik Brown, now 21, testified in the March trial that Johnson approached him outside a taco restaurant in the 8300 block of Parkway Drive in La Mesa.

“Do me a favor. I need a ride,” said Johnson, according to Brown, who said no.

Johnson then pulled out the needles and held them to his neck, he said. Brown testified he was forced to drive Johnson around for 40 minutes. At one point, Johnson stopped and began snorting cocaine, even offering some to the teen, who said no.

Brown said he punched Johnson in the jaw and escaped from his 2000 Ford Ranger truck.

Johnson drove off in his truck and committed other crimes before he crashed into a freeway construction site. The truck caught fire and it was totaled. Johnson was then arrested.

Kirvin ordered Johnson to pay $4,000 in restitution to the victim, who had purchased the vehicle for $3,000, and his lost possessions including his wallet, a backpack, and a laptop.

“He (Branik) is relieved now that this has concluded,” said Carberry.

Johnson has prior convictions for aggravated robbery in 2011, carjacking in 2009, aggravated carjacking in 2006 and attempted robbery in 2004, all in Illinois, said Carberry.

Johnson, whose attorney asked, unsuccessfully, for a new trial, was given jail credits of 1,530 days.

The trial had been delayed because of concerns over Johnson’s mental competency and he spent some time at a state psychiatric facility until he regained his mental fitness to stand trial.

Man accused of accessory in body-in-the-bay case

Jury deliberations continued this week in the murder accessory trial of an El Cajon man who is suspected of helping his friend dump a body in a 55-gallon drum in San Diego Bay.

Derrick Jefferson Spurgeon, 40, owns the boat that was seen on traffic surveillance cameras as it was towed from El Cajon with his friend, Timothy John Cook, 54, to the bay in October 2017.

Two boaters discovered the floating barrel on Oct. 12, and reported it. Police discovered it contained the body of Omar Medina, 28, who was Cook’s roommate at his Chula Vista home. He had been stabbed 66 times.

Spurgeon’s attorney, Roland Haddad, told jurors there was no evidence that Spurgeon knew a body was in the barrel, and asked them to acquit him of being an accessory after the fact.

Deputy District Attorney Cherie Somerville asked the 10-man, two-woman jury to convict Cook of first-degree murder. Jurors began deliberations Nov. 26 after being instructed by San Diego Superior Court Judge Carolyn Caietti and were off until Dec. 2 for more deliberations.

Cook’s attorney, Kara Oien, conceded that Cook put the body inside the barrel because traffic cameras showed him and Spurgeon driving from El Cajon with the white barrel on the boat.

“He didn’t make the right decision when he found his body,” said Oien. “He was trying to avoid this situation–of being on trial for murder.”

Neither Spurgeon or Cook testified and they both remain in jail.