Johnson trial costs $50,000 |

Johnson trial costs $50,000

Gary E. Salazar

— The successful prosecution of convicted murderer Thomas Lee Johnson came at a cost of $50,000 to the Steamboat Springs Police Department, said J.D. Hays, Steamboat’s director of public safety services.

The Johnson case was the department’s most expensive in eight years, which was the last time the department investigated a murder, Hays said Thursday.

In 1993, Jill Coit and Michael Backus killed Gerald Boggs.

“I can’t remember the amount for that case, but it also was pretty significant,” Hays said of the Boggs investigation.

Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Paul McLimans, who helped prosecute Johnson, convicted last month of killing Lori Bases, said the verdict was a reflection of the department’s work.

“It was good ol’ fashion police work,” McLimans said.

The bulk of the department’s cost was incurred during the weeks that followed the early morning hours of May 12, 2000, when Bases, 31, was found dead in her Steamboat Springs apartment.

The majority of the cost went to overtime paid to investigators who were tracking leads.

“There was a lack of sleep,” said Steamboat Detective Robert DelValle, who was the lead investigator. “But it was a well run investigation. We worked hard.”

Capt. Richard Crotz, Detective Dave Kleiber, Sgt. Joel Rae, and officers Jason Patrick and Jerry Stabile assisted DelValle with the investigation.

In the weeks that followed Bases’ death, the group met every morning with Hays to keep the investigation moving forward.

Initially, investigators identified nine possible suspects. The pool of suspects included Johnson. Authorities said they did not focus entirely on Johnson until they got a tip from Wisconsin authorities.

After Bases’ death, Johnson went to Wisconsin and stayed with his brother, Scott Johnson. In Wisconsin, Johnson used his older brother’s identity to get a drivers license and apply for a passport.

Local investigators were notified of Johnson’s activities when Scott Johnson’s wife called Wisconsin authorities who interviewed her husband.

The tip would lead to a trip to Wisconsin by Crotz and Rae to interview Scott Johnson.

The next break investigators got came when they found the highway post Johnson struck in an SUV he rented the day of the murder, May 11, 2000.

“It was like finding a needle in the haystack,” Hays said.

DelValle, on a hunch, stopped at each highway post on Rabbit Ears Pass to find the mangled post and parts left on the ground from the silver 2000 Mitsubishi Montero Sport Johnson rented in Denver.

The department also paid for a trip DelValle, Kleiber and Patrick made to California June 20, 2000.

The officers drove to a Sacramento suburb to interview Johnson.

Police made the trip after Johnson’s wife, Kim Goodwin, called local police to report she found a rental car receipt dated May 11, 2000. Johnson was arrested in Steamboat Springs three days later.

“We did some good police work,” DelValle said. “We had some luck, and we prayed together, too.”

To pay for the overtime the officers put in during the investigation, Hays used salaries that had been set aside for three open positions within the department.

“The shortage in personnel helped the department with its overtime costs,” he said. “We also used funds out of our budget for training and travel.”

During the months leading up to Johnson’s Oct. 29 trial, his lawyers questioned the department’s work.

“The defense alleged we lied about everything,” Hays said, adding that the jury’s return with a guilty verdict after only eight hous of deliberation was a vindication for the department.

Hays said he is also proud of the whole department. Hays said the patrol officers had to cover shifts for officers on the case.

“Everybody jumped in and did what they needed to do,”

Hays said.

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