Jury convicts Thomas Lee Johnson of first-degree murder for killing Lori Bases
Fort Collins — Before Sherry Mesecher entered the Fort Collins courtroom Tuesday afternoon to hear a jury render a verdict against the man accused of killing her daughter, the Steamboat Springs woman looked to the sky and with her right hand touched her forehead and then the middle, left and right sides of her chest.
A few moments later, at about 2:35 p.m., the Larimer County jury found 31-year-old Thomas Lee Johnson guilty of first-degree murder, rejecting the defense argument that Johnson was acting in self-defense when he stabbed Lori Bases to death on May 11, 2000. Because of the conviction, Johnson will be sentenced to life in prison during a hearing set for 9 a.m. Jan. 16.
“I just thank God,” said a teary-eyed Mesecher after the verdict. “That is the only thing we can get. There will never be any closure ’til the day I die.
“She was a wonderful, wonderful girl. I know every mother would say that about her daughter. I just thank God for the time I had with Lori.”
In addition to first-degree murder, the eight-woman, four-man jury also found Johnson guilty of criminal trespass and mischief for vandalizing Bases’ sport utility vehicle about a month before she was killed.
The jury deliberated for about eight hours over the course of two days before reaching a verdict Wednesday afternoon. It took some time for lawyers and family members to get into the courtroom before the verdict was read by Justice Joseph P. Quinn, who presided over the case, moving it from Steamboat Springs to Fort Collins because of pretrial publicity.
As Quinn read off the guilty verdict for each charge, members of Bases’ family, who sat in the first row behind prosecutors, cried.
Johnson showed little emotion as the verdict was read. He sat slumped while his court-appointed defense attorney, Norm Townsend, rested a hand on his shoulder.
But as two Larimer County Sheriff’s deputies led Johnson away, tears started to roll down his cheeks. He declined a tissue offered by one of the deputies.
Johnson’s parents showed little emotion and quickly left the courtroom.
After the verdict, Townsend declined to comment on the jury’s verdict.
Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Paul McLimans said he was pleased with the outcome.
“I’m especially pleased for the family,” McLimans said. “It took a long time to get this over with.”
Because Johnson has been convicted of first-degree murder, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole, McLimans said. For the mischief charge, Johnson could receive an additional 16 years in prison. The trespass charge carries a maximum prison term of eight years.
After the verdict, Bases’ family and friends met with some members of the jury in the hallway outside the courtroom. Some jurors gave Bases’ family hugs.
Mesecher’s family, which included her husband, Bob, her mother, sisters, two sons and daughter, talked with some jurors. The jurors said prosecutors made it easy for them to reject Johnson’s defense of self-defense.
“It was the evidence,” jury forewoman Brenda Wray said. “The prosecution’s case was laid out perfectly. They presented it step by step. He slashed the car, and then he slashed her. He did it both times.”
The jurors determined from the evidence Johnson planned to kill the 31-year-old Bases when he rented a silver 2000 Mitsubishi Montero in Denver the afternoon of May 11, 2000.
Johnson stabbed and slashed Bases’ body with a knife more than 20 times. Bases’ neck was slashed, and she had stab and slash wounds to her chest, lower back, legs and left arm and hand. An autopsy showed Bases bled to death from the wounds.
From the evidence, the jury determined Johnson came to Steamboat Springs because Bases was interfering with his relationship with Kimberly Goodwin. Johnson and Goodwin, who met in high school in Longmont, lived together for about two years at Goodwin’s Longmont home. At the time Johnson drove to Steamboat Springs, his relationship with Bases’ close friend, Goodwin, had ended, and the two women had plans to move in together.
Townsend claimed Johnson and Goodwin had not broken up and were planning to get married. He argued Johnson went to Bases’ apartment to try to mend a rift that had developed between Goodwin and Bases.
Townsend claimed Bases was angry with Goodwin because her friend had gone back to Johnson. Goodwin confided in Bases in April 2000 when she said Johnson, whom she would marry 18 days after Bases’ death, raped her. During the time Goodwin was staying in Steamboat Springs in April, the jury determined from the evidence Johnson rented a vehicle in Denver and drove to Steamboat to slash the tires and interior of Bases’ new Toyota Rav 4.
“It was all about control,” Wray said of Johnson’s relationship with Goodwin. “He lost it.”
The jurors also rejected the defense’s claim Bases attacked Johnson with a knife. Johnson claimed Bases went into her bedroom, got a knife and then attacked him.
“We followed the letter of the law that he was guilty of murder in the first degree,” said juror Rob Douglas.
Bases’ family thanked the Steamboat Springs Police Department, McLimans and Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James.
“The police and the prosecutors worked very hard,” Mesecher said.
Said one juror, “The detectives did an awesome job. The DA did an awesome job laying out the evidence. The people in Steamboat Springs should be proud.”
Although the trial ended the way Mesecher hoped, the verdict did little to make up for the pain of losing her daughter.
“It has been horrible,” Mesecher said. “He didn’t even know her. He didn’t show any remorse. You couldn’t even ask that kind of man why.
“I wouldn’t waste my breath on him.”
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