Johnson gets life sentence
Family of Lori Bases calls the murderer a 'monster'
Fort Collins — Thomas Lee Johnson will spend the rest of his life behind bars because he killed a Steamboat Springs woman in May 2000.
On Wednesday morning, Justice Joseph P. Quinn sentenced the 31-year-old Johnson to life in prison without parole for the death of Lori Bases. Quinn also sentenced Johnson to an additional six years in prison for vandalizing Bases’ sport utility vehicle about a month before the murder.
Quinn sentenced Johnson following an emotional hearing in a third-floor courtroom at the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins. Johnson showed little emotion as Quinn sentenced him for convictions of first-degree murder and criminal trespass and mischief.
“Well, Mr. Johnson all I can say is there are some opportunities available in confinement,” Quinn said. “Make the most of what opportunities are presented.”
Last November, a Larimer County jury found Johnson guilty of the charges. The 12-member panel determined Johnson planned to kill Bases the evening of May 11, 2000, when he drove from Denver to Bases’ Steamboat Springs apartment.
Johnson stabbed Bases more than 20 times that included wounds to the woman’s throat, chest, back, arms and legs. An autopsy determined Bases bled to death. Johnson, who was wearing a red jail uniform and sporting glasses, a mustache and goatee, declined to make a statement during the hearing, which lasted about an hour.
Johnson had prepared a statement but decided against making it after hearing from Bases’ family, which characterized him as a “monster” and a “coward.”
“I wanted to hear what the family had to say,” Johnson said. “I have decided not to make a statement at this point because it would not be appropriate.”
Friends of Johnson attended the hearing, but his parents were absent.
Before Quinn heard from Bases’ mother, stepfather and sister, a five-minute video was shown to Quinn and the packed courtroom.
“We have spent the past 18 months focusing on Thomas Johnson,” Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James said. “The court was left with a horrific image of (Bases). Let’s spend a few minutes this morning focusing on the life of Lori Bases to give a complete picture of who she was.”
To the music of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” the courtroom was shown pictures of Bases from her youth to the time of her death.
The pictures traced moments in Bases’ life from the time she was a red-haired, freckled girl to adulthood.
There was an image of Bases catching a fish and numerous family photos of past holidays that included her mother, Sherry Mesecher, her older sister and two younger brothers.
Images also showed Bases skiing, hiking and biking. During the presentation, members of Bases’ family wept, while Johnson remained stoic.
“Thomas Johnson broke my heart,” a nervous Mesecher said. “He took something from me that is irreplaceable.”
Mesecher said it pains her daily to know her daughter will never get married and have children.
“All those things were shattered because Thomas Johnson decided it was time for her to die,” Mesecher said.
Mesecher said she also did not think Johnson is sorry for what he has done. “He has no feeling of remorse,” Mesecher said. “The way he smiled and laughed during the trial confirmed that for me.”
Mesecher said she hopes Johnson suffers for what he has done.
“My wish for Thomas Johnson is may every night be long and a struggle to survive,” she said.
Kim Cameron said her younger sister died for a “stupid reason.”
The motive authorities have given for the murder is Johnson killed the 31-year-old woman because he thought she was interfering with his relationship with Kim Goodwin, a good friend of Bases.
“Lori knew Thomas Johnson was a monster,” Cameron said. “I hope every day he will have to fight for his life.”
Bob Mesecher read a letter from Bases’ aunt, Tammy Hobbs, who was unable to attend the hearing. Hobbs wrote that she hopes one day to wake up with the news Johnson has killed himself.
Mesecher ended his statement by staring directly at Johnson. “There is nothing you can say to make this better,” Mesecher said. “There is nothing you can say to take away the pain.”
Norm Townsend, Johnson’s court-appointed attorney, defended his client.
“Thomas Johnson is a person of worth,” Townsend said as some members of the gallery snickered. “He is a person who loves and is loved by others.
“He is sorry every day for the death of Lori Bases. There is nothing he can say. He is remorseful and wishes she could be here today.”
Over the course of a 13-day trial, Johnson claimed he killed Bases in self-defense. “Nobody knows what happened the night Lori Bases died,” Townsend said. “They believe they know, but Thomas Johnson did not go there with the intention to kill.
“He is genuinely sorry. If there was anything he could say to the family and to this court to show his sincerity, he would. But we have learned today there is nothing he can say.”
Along with the prison sentences, Quinn ordered that Johnson pay $10,000 to the Sharp family who owns the Steamboat Boulevard apartment Bases was killed in.
The cost is what the couple paid to remodel the apartment.
Quinn also ordered Johnson to pay $5,000 to Bases’ family for the damage caused to her SUV in April 2000. The vehicle’s tires and interior were slashed.
“I doubt this will ever be paid,” St. James said.
“But if there is any money he makes from stamping license plates or anything else, it should go to the victims.”
Quinn also ordered Johnson to pay $255 in court costs.
The judge also ordered that Johnson not have any contact with family members who were witnesses in the case, which include his brother and sister.
The judge granted a request from Johnson’s ex-wife, Michelle Linnebur, and ordered that Johnson not write or call her.
However, Linnebur’s request to ban Johnson from having any contact with his three children was not granted by Quinn who said such a ruling should be made by a family court judge.
After the hearing, Johnson shook hands with his attorney and was led out of the courtroom by two Routt County Sheriff’s deputies. Johnson will be taken to the Colorado Department of Corrections’ Diagnostic Center in Denver where he will be evaluated. After the evaluations are complete, Johnson will be taken to one of the state’s many correctional facilities to start serving his sentence.
After the hearing, Mesecher and her family hugged prosecutors and Steamboat investigators in a hallway outside the courtroom.
Mesecher and her family also talked briefly with five of the 12 jurors who attended the hearing.
St. James said the life Johnson will now live is one he was living.
“Every woman he was with, he was controlling,” St. James said. “Now, he will be told what to wear and what food he can eat. Countless acts he took for granted will be in the control of someone else.”
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