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Murder trial for slain UNT student underway

Murder trial for slain UNT student underway

At the Denton county courthouse on Wednesday, July 26, the trial of former U.S. Marine Eric Johnson, 21, is underway for the murder of UNT student Sara Mutschlechner, 20, back on New Year's Day in 2016. The trial just began Monday, July 24. PC: Katie Jenkins

Murder trial for slain UNT student underway
July 26
20:14 2017

An emotional first day of testimony in the murder trial of Eric Johnson, a former Marine accused of fatally shooting UNT student Sara Mutschlechner on New Year’s Day of 2016, concluded Tuesday.

Johnson allegedly fired two shots from a 9mm handgun into the vehicle Mutschlechner was driving, striking her in the back of the head. The two were at the intersection of North Elm Street and West University roughly two miles from campus when Mutschlechner was shot and crashed her vehicle.

She died later that day.

State prosecutors Tony Paul and Michelle Dobson recapped the events of that night during their opening statements. According to Paul and Dobson, words were exchanged between the two vehicles Mutschlechner and Johnson were driving, and the conversation eventually escalated.

Eric Johnson | Denton Jail Records

Just as the light turned green, Johnson reportedly fired two shots at Mutschlechner’s vehicle – one striking the back seat passenger door, and the other striking Mutschlechner.

Mutschlechner was unresponsive as the car collided with another vehicle and ran into a telephone pole.

“This is a horrible tragedy that has devastated two families,” Bruce Isaacks, Johnson’s defense attorney said in his opening statement. “But Eric was a good child.”

Isaacks didn’t object that Johnson fired a gun, but argued a manslaughter charge would be more appropriate, as Johnson didn’t intend to harm anyone, and was only “trying to defuse the situation.”

Johnson’s defense said during the verbal exchange between the two vehicles, racial slurs were used, and it was Mutschlechner’s vehicle that started the conflict.

Johnson was living in Yuma, Arizona at the time, and was only in Denton visiting his mother for the holidays. He was an active duty Marine, living close to a Yuma military base where he was stationed. If convicted of murder, Johnson could face life in prison, while manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.

After investigators linked Johnson to the crime using social media, Johnson was interrogated by investigators where he admitted to the shooting. He was arrested January 5, 2016 and later extradited to Denton County jail.

“This case was really solved with social media,” Paul said.

Crime scene investigator Donna Krouskup said a bullet was recovered from Mutschlechner’s vehicle, and the bullet was found to be fired from Johnson’s firearm using forensics. 

Alexis Mueller, 21, a friend of Mutschlechner, was called as a witness. Mueller said at the stoplight, it was the other vehicle’s passengers that motioned them to roll down their window. Johnson’s friends started calling Mueller and her friends “misogynistic things,” according to Mueller.

“I saw the tip of the gun barely poking out from the very corner of the window,” Mueller said.

Mueller heard three shots and the vehicle collided with a telephone pole. Mueller said Mutschlechner “fell over in my direction,” after being shot.

Isaacks asked Mueller if she recalled anyone in her vehicle using any racial or homophobic slurs. Mueller didn’t remember hearing such phrases.

Cory Perry, 24, another one of Mutschlechner’s friends, said while the two vehicles were stopped at the stoplight, he was smoking a cigarette with the window down and “heard voices next to us.” Perry said there was then an exchange of trash talk, and while he didn’t remember specifics, he did recall Johnson threatened to shoot.

After colliding with the telephone pole, Perry pulled Mutschlechner out of the vehicle.

Adrion Arthur, 22, was a passenger in Johnson’s car during the shooting, but had only met Johnson for the first time that night.

“[We] were asking where the next party was, and they weren’t receptive.” Arthur said “[Johnson] said he messed up and didn’t want that to happen.”

The trial is expected to continue throughout the week.

Featured Image: At the Denton county courthouse on Wednesday, July 26, the trial of former U.S. Marine Eric Johnson, 21, is underway for the murder of UNT student Sara Mutschlechner, 20, back on New Year’s Day in 2016. The trial just began Monday, July 24. Katie Jenkins

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Alexander Willis

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