Nearly seven years after killing her boyfriend, 47-year-old Suzanne Johnson isn't in prison, but she's headed there.
The Madison County woman confessed to shooting Frank Brown -- first in the back, then twice in the head -- in her Collinsville apartment in 1996. Afterward, she told police, she cut off his penis and tried to do the same to his legs. She managed to cut off Brown's head, which police found in her freezer. The rest of the corpse was in a trash can in the kitchen. A neighbor summoned officers after blood began dripping into a downstairs apartment.
President of the Sin City Deciples motorcycle club, the 41-year-old Brown was a tough guy. He had a taste for women and was preparing to leave town for the weekend -- all of which, investigators said, added up to a motive for murder. Johnson, they contended, killed in a jealous rage.
Johnson hired Bill Lucco, one of the most prominent defense attorneys in the Metro East. Though charged with first-degree murder, Johnson was out on bail within two months, despite having confessed to police, claiming self-defense. Lucco also persuaded Madison County Circuit Court Judge Charles V. Romani to throw out the confession and all the physical evidence -- including the corpse -- on the grounds that police had failed to obtain a warrant before searching her apartment.
This past November, while the prosecution's appeal of Romani's decision was pending, Johnson accepted a plea bargain, pleading guilty to second-degree murder [Bruce Rushton, "Whack Job," March 12].
Last Thursday Johnson arrived at the Edwardsville courthouse for her sentencing hearing. According to the Belleville News-Democrat's account of the proceedings, Lucco painted a portrait of a "really quiet, timid soul" who poses no risk to society. Noting that Brown had physically abused Johnson and that she hadn't ever been in trouble until the murder, Lucco predicted she'd never kill again. His client has cancer, he added, suggesting that Johnson be sentenced to probation.
Johnson, who claimed she killed Brown out of fear for her own life, said she was sorry. "I did love Frank," she told the judge.
Under the terms of the plea bargain, prosecutors did not recommend a specific sentence, but prosecutor David Rands urged the judge to consider that "a man's death absolutely requires, in the people's view, a sentence of imprisonment."
According to sentencing guidelines, Johnson could have received up to twenty years in prison. Romani sentenced her to five. If she behaves, she'll be out in less than three. She's due to surrender herself to authorities on Monday.