A former Texas A&M football player accused of hacking a jogger to death with a machete in 2015 was found guilty of murder Tuesday morning. A Dallas jury sentenced him to life in prison Wednesday morning.
Thomas Johnson was accused of using a machete to murder 53-year-old David Stevens as he ran along White Rock Creek Trail at Harry Moss Park. The jury swiftly returned a guilty verdict Tuesday morning, a day after the trial began. The trial then moved immediately to the sentencing phase. Johnson could face anywhere from five years to life in prison.
The defense did not call all any witnesses or present testimony to argue Johnson's innocence. Johnson did not testify. Though Johnson pleaded not guilty, his defense said they understood a jury would find Johnson guilty.
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Instead, the defense team indicated it would focus on arguing for an "appropriate punishment."
With the jury out of the courtroom, Johnson stood with his lawyer as the defense explained its strategy and established, for the record, Johnson was in agreement. Johnson spoke in short sentences only saying, "yes, sir" and "no, sir" when addressed by his lawyer.
"But not for his disease, would we be here in this courtroom? And the answer to that question, everyone will tell you, is no," said defense attorney Paul Johnson. "How do we, as a society, punish somebody acting under the influence of their disease?"
Johnson was found incompetent to stand trial in 2016 and was sent to a psychiatric hospital. He was later found fit to stand trial.
During testimony in the punishment phase, Mark Stevens, the victim's brother told the jury David Stevens was a "wonderful soul."
He said he and his wife, Patti, were married since 1990. Patti died by suicide a couple of weeks after Stevens' murder.
"They were meant for each other. That’s why Patti isn’t here today. She told me, 'How can I be here knowing what he did to my Dave?' She just couldn’t continue on," said Mark Stevens.
Before the prosecution rested, the state’s first witness on Tuesday was Courtney Ferreira, a forensic DNA analyst, who testified to finding both the victim and suspect’s DNA on the machete, the suspect’s jeans and hoodie.
Presbyterian Hospital Surgeon Dr. Mohammad Frotan later testified the machete was imbedded in Stevens’ skull when rescuers brought the victim to the ER.
"He had a thready, barely palpable pulse," Frotan told the jury.
Still, Frotan said medical staff worked for an hour and 40 minutes to try to keep Stevens alive, testifying Stevens was brought in at 8:30 a.m. and was pronounced dead at 10:10 a.m.
Tuesday’s developments follow an emotional day for witnesses on Monday as they described coming into contact with defendant Johnson moments before the murder. [[333980851,C]]
"I looked up at him and said good morning and he glared down at me with the most evil eyes, I've ever seen, I've ever seen," said Sharon Callison, who was out walking with a friend on the White Rock Lake trail the morning of Oct. 12, 2015.
Callison said they came in contact with a man wearing a red hoodie and a demeanor she'd never forget.
"I never felt such a presence of evil, to be honest. His eyes were just cold and hard and just evil looking -- and I told Annette that man is mean and evil," she said. Also on the trail at the time was 53-year-old David Stevens, out for his morning run.
Biker Brandon Davenport testified how he came upon a scene where he saw Stevens being brutally attacked by another man with a machete.
"It was one-handed, it was as if trying to cut like chop wood, like all of the way up and back down, I saw six or seven of them, just massive, over-the-head swings, coming back on the person on the ground, onto their neck," Davenport said.
Thomas Johnson later told police he attacked Stevens randomly because he was upset with his living situation at the time.
Annette Luscio called 911 when she saw Johnson acting erratic both before and after the attack.
And he starts yelling at me saying, 'Give me your phone, give me your phone,' and I said, 'I am not giving you your phone,'" Luscio said.
The medical examiner, paramedics, Dallas police officers and witnesses also testified. Officer Jeff Newhouse described to jurors how he saw Johnson on the scene, claiming that he was the one responsible for the crime.
"I saw him sitting down hugging this pillar right here, facing this direction and he kept repeating over and over that he had committed capital murder. He said it approximately 10 or 12 times," Newhouse said.
Stevens' wife of 25 years, Patti, later took her own life. In the days before her suicide, Patti Stevens told The Dallas Morning News that she felt lost without "the love of my life."
Johnson is a Dallas native who attended Skyline High School and played football for Texas A&M in 2012. He disappeared mid-season and wasn't seen again until he appeared at his family's Dallas home three days later.
In an interview with NBC 5, Johnson's father said his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2014 and that the disease is a "monster."