North Texas Daily

Johnson trial concludes with murder conviction and 44-year sentence

Johnson trial concludes with murder conviction and 44-year sentence

August 01
23:41 2017

Eric Johnson was sentenced to serve 44 years in prison on Tuesday for the 2016 murder of UNT student Sara Mutschlechner. The jury deliberated for over two hours before reaching its decision.

He will be eligible for parole in 22 years.

Johnson was convicted of murder Monday after fatally shooting Mutschlechner in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, 2016. The trial began July 25 and concluded August 1. An emotional trial for both families, Johnson stood motionless as Judge Bruce McFarling read the jury’s decision.

“He was on a path to hurt somebody long before that night,” state prosecutor Tony Paul said during his closing argument. “Who takes a gun to a party in Denton for no reason?”

Defense attorney Bruce Isaacks argued for Johnson to be charged with manslaughter as opposed to murder. Manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, much less than the maximum sentence for a murder conviction, which can be up to life in prison.

“This was a manslaughter case – the jury didn’t agree with that,” Isaacks said. “I think two-thirds of the maximum sentence was fairly harsh considering he’s never been in any kind of trouble.”

During the trial, Isaacks called Cynthia Manuel to the stand, a probation officer for Tarrant County, and Johnson’s neighbor since he was a child. Manuel told the jury a lesser sentence would be good for Johnson.

“Eric is a good kid,” Manuel said. “He’s a quiet kid. He’s a respectful kid. He’ll do anything for you.”

Throughout the trial, Mutschlecher’s mother and father, Gloria and Clay, were called to the stand. Both gave somber testimony, and said the last time they saw their daughter was Christmas Day 2015.

“We miss her,” Clay said. “A lot of people miss her. We didn’t see her graduate. We won’t see her get married, have grandchildren … that’s a big part of life, and we’re not going to experience it.”

During sentencing, the defense and prosecutors discussed Johnson’s character. Videos and photos retrieved from Johnson’s phone were shown to the court, in which Johnson was seen posing with firearms and displaying supposed gang signs. Another photo retrieved from Johnson’s phone showed Johnson and two friends posing with firearms just a few hours after the shooting of Mutschlechner, according to forensics detective Eric Beckwith.

Chris Wells, an officer at the Fort Worth police department who specializes in gang activity, said many of the hand signs used by Johnson in the photographs were consistent with signs used by the Bloods – a gang formed in Los Angeles during the 1970s.

Johnson denied during testimony that he had tried to represent himself as a Blood, and that some of the hand signs depicted in the photos stood for “love” and “brotherhood.”

“I still believe in my heart that my son is not a bad kid.” Eric’s father John Johnson said. “He made a mistake. He’s like a book – there’s many letters to him.”

Before the trial concluded, Mutschlechner’s mother, Gloria, recounted her experience seeing her daughter at the hospital. Visibly distraught, she told the jury of her and her husband’s experience the night their daughter was shot and what their future holds.

“I just remember going numb,” Gloria said, fighting back tears. “My eyes wouldn’t even blink. I just sat there and stared. We’ll never be the same. We’ll never get over this. Every moment, every minute, I think about her. [Sara] was our sunshine.”

Featured Image: Eric Johnson, right, stands and listens Monday as the judge reads the jury’s verdict that Johnson had been found guilty in the murder of 20-year-old Sara Mutschlechner on New Year’s Day 2016. Courtesy Jake King/DRC

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Alexander Willis

Alexander Willis

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