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On January 10, 2002, 58-year-old Marlyne Johnson was found bludgeoned to death in her home in Brush Prairie, Washington. Her body was discovered in the basement by her son, Brad and his 23-year-old wife, Sophia.
During the police investigation, a woman named Suzie Parker told detectives that on the morning of September 10th, she drove her boyfriend, 19-year-old Sean Correia and Correia’s sister, Sophia Johnson, to Marlyne Johnson’s home and dropped them off at about 9 a.m.
Police questioned Correia and he implicated Sophia in the murder. On January 14, 2002, Sophia and Correia were arrested. Police said Sophia beat her mother-in-law to death with fireplace tongs when Marlyne came home unexpectedly while Sophia was attempting to steal money from the home. Police said Correia helped steal Marlyne’s van and dispose of bloody clothing.
Sophia was charged with murder and Correia was charged with rendering criminal assistance, theft and burglary.
By the time Sophia went on trial in Clark County Superior Court in March 2003, she had also been charged with an unrelated crime, embezzling from her employer. She pled guilty to embezzling $70,000 in return for a three year sentence. Correia pled guilty to all three charges, and was sentenced to one year in prison in return for testimony against his sister.
Correia testified to the following version of events: He and Sophia went to Marlyne’s home looking for money that Sophia had in the pocket of a coat that she had left at Marlyne’s home. Sophia planned to give him the money so he could divorce his wife to be with his girlfriend. But when they got inside, Sophia told him she believed Marlyne had stashed $10,000 in the home and she wanted to steal it.
According to Correia, Sophia was searching the home when they heard the garage door open and realized Marlyne was coming home. He said Sophia told him to stay where he was and she went to the basement level, which adjoined the garage.
Correia testified that a few moments later he heard a screeching noise and went to the basement where he saw a stocking-masked person, wearing gloves and a plaid shirt, standing over Marlyne’s body. He said the person struck the body with fireplace tongs. He claimed that when he turned to leave, the person ordered him to stop. “It turned out to be my sister,” Correia testified.
After Sophia attacked Marlyne, Correia said that he and Sophia took Marlyne’s van and drove to Sophia’s home where he changed out of his clothes because they were blood-spattered. He said they put their bloody clothes in a bag, retrieved Marlyne’s van, and drove to a parking lot where they abandoned the van.
The jury deliberated for 30 hours over four days without reaching a verdict. After jurors complained that one of their members was refusing to deliberate, the trial judge replaced that juror with an alternate juror. On April 9, 2003, the jury convicted Sophia of murder. She was sentenced to 43 years in prison.
In January 2005, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, because the judge had improperly removed the juror and because a bailiff had impermissibly talked with another juror about the deliberations.
When Sophia went on trial a second time in November 2005, Correia was not called as a witness. After completing his prison term in 2004, he had been deported to Guyana where he and Sophia were born. Prior to the trial, he sent a letter to the prosecution saying that he was refusing “to take part in this charade anymore.” The letter said, “I wish to make note that I have obtained evidence that can possibly put others in the crime. I have brought this to the attention of the detectives in the case and nothing has been done about it.”
Prior to the second trial, Sophia’s defense attorney brought the forensic evidence and police reports to a forensic consulting firm. At the retrial, for the first time, forensic analyst Kay Sweeney testified that the crime scene photos of the body and graze marks left on the wall behind the body indicated that the fireplace tongs had been swung by someone using their left hand. Sweeney also testified that based on the graze marks on the wall left by the end of the tongs on its downward arc, the attacker must have been at least 5 feet 10 inches tall.
Johnson was 5 feet 4 inches tall and right handed.
On November 10, 2005, the jury acquitted Sophia. In December 2005, Sophia was deported to her native Guyana because she had never become a U.S. citizen and she had pled no contest to felony embezzlement.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.