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Killer of Bristol officer sentenced to death

DEE GOODIN • Apr 28, 2007 at 12:51 PM

Nikolaus Johnson sits with his attorney in this file photo. Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Officer Mark Vance of the Bristol, Va. Police Department.

BLOUNTVILLE - Two years and five months after he shot a Bristol police officer in the face with a .357-caliber Magnum handgun, Nikolaus L. Johnson, 28, of Bristol, Va., was sentenced to death on Friday.

Mark Vance, 30, a full-time officer with the Bristol Police Department for only 18 months, was killed within seconds of entering a residence on a domestic call on Nov. 27, 2004, Thanksgiving weekend.

While the jury took little more than an hour and a half, including lunch, to find Johnson guilty of first-degree murder on Tuesday, deliberations during the sentencing phase of the trial took much longer.

The jury had three options: life in prison, life in prison without parole, or death.

The jury returned its verdict at 4:50 p.m. Friday, but after examining the paperwork Circuit Judge Jerry Beck directed them to write the verdict in accordance with statutory requirements and sent them back to the jury room.

By 6 p.m., jurors were back in the courtroom.

They again said Johnson's previous conviction on malicious wounding and the fact he had killed a law enforcement officer who was performing his duties outweighed all of the favorable testimony his family and friends had given on Thursday.

Vance was responding to a domestic call involving a man threatening a woman with a gun on Belmont Avenue when he was killed. According to testimony, Johnson said that if he were going back to prison it would be for murder, not statutory rape. He also said he would kill the first person to enter the home, whether it be Walter Mitchell, father of Britney Mitchell who gave birth to Johnson's triplet daughters, or a police officer.

According to testimony, Johnson became enraged after the girl told him she had not terminated her pregnancy as she had led him to believe.

After court was dismissed on Friday, Bristol Police Chief Blaine Wade said, "We're satisfied with the verdict. But it's sad it won't bring Mark back."

The young officer's mother, brother and several friends were in court throughout the trial's three-week duration. Vance's daughter was 6 when her father died.

"From what we see as a lack of remorse, it was the only sentence the man could receive. It's a tragedy for both the Vance and Johnson families," Wade said.

Asked to comment about the verdict, Jim Bowman, Johnson's court-appointed attorney along with Stacy Street, said, "Conscientious citizens made a conscientious decision. But it's a shame we continue to believe that violence is the answer to violence."

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