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Johnson still awaiting sentencing in officer's murder

DEE GOODIN • Apr 25, 2007 at 11:06 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - A man convicted of first-degree murder in Sullivan County Criminal Court is still awaiting sentencing following a day filled with plenty of twists and turns on Wednesday.

Nikolaus L. Johnson, 28, Bristol, Va., was found guilty Tuesday in the Nov. 27, 2004, shooting death of Bristol Police Department Officer Mark Vance. The state has requested that Johnson face the death penalty, but a jury must determine whether he will face execution, serve life in prison without parole, or serve a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Before the penalty phase could begin Tuesday, Johnson told Judge Jerry Beck to "cut to the chase. I ain't begging nobody for nothing."

Beck told Johnson to sleep on his decision before resuming the hearing Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Johnson told Beck that he wanted to go through with the hearing but only wanted his family and friends to testify as character witnesses. He did not want the mental health specialists his court-appointed attorneys, Jim Bowman and Stacy Street, had scheduled to testify. Johnson also sought to fire his attorneys.

By the afternoon, the two attorneys were still on the case, and Johnson underwent mental evaluations to determine if he is competent to make decisions affecting his case.

Dr. William Bernet testified that he was unable to make any conclusions as to Johnson's competency because of his lack of cooperation. But Dr. Steve Lawhon said Johnson "seemed to be unusually happy, he was cordial, pleasant."

In spite of the differing findings, Beck found Johnson competent.

Because of Johnson's request to only call family and friends as character witnesses, Bowman and Street asked to be given until today to present their case, allowing them time to question those on Johnson's list.

Johnson's mother, Kathy Johnson-Vance, was called down by Beck after speaking loudly in the courtroom. Beck told Johnson-Vance that he could cite her for contempt of court.

The hearing is scheduled to resume at the Sullivan County Justice Center at 9:30 a.m. today.

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