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The defense rests

Jury to begin deliberating on the fate of Thomas Lee Johnson next week

Gary E. Salazar

— A Larimer County jury will begin deliberating the fate of Thomas Lee Johnson next week after Johnson’s attorneys called a handful of witnesses Thursday and then rested their case.

Prosecutors took six days to present evidence against Johnson, who is accused of killing 31-year-old Lori Bases last year in her Steamboat Springs apartment. The defense took less than six hours, wrapping up its portion of the trial by 2 p.m. Thursday. Johnson did not testify in his own behalf.

“I have elected not to,” Johnson said when asked by Justice Joseph P. Quinn if he would take the stand.

Norm Townsend, Johnson’s attorney, declined to comment on Johnson’s decision not to testify. Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Paul McLimans and his assistant, Kerry St. James, were not available for comment.

After the last witness testified, Quinn dismissed the 12-member jury until next week. The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday when Townsend and St. James will deliver closing arguments.

Johnson’s attorneys claim their client killed Bases in self-defense the evening of May 11, 2000.

They assert Bases went into her bedroom, got a knife and attacked Johnson while he sat on a bar stool next to a kitchen counter.

Prosecutors contend Johnson planned to kill Bases because the woman was interfering with his relationship with Kimberly Goodwin. Prosecutors claim Bases was planning to leave Steamboat Springs to move in with Goodwin later in the summer of 2000. They assert Johnson attacked Bases and stabbed her more than 20 times.

Prosecutors showed the jury autopsy photos of Bases’ slashed throat and three stab wounds to the left side of her chest.

On Thursday, Townsend attacked the prosecution’s claim Bases was planning to move in with Goodwin.

The defense attorney also presented evidence Bases was using cocaine the evening before her death and was “paranoid” and “scared” the day of her death.

According to testimony by Michelle Gannoe, Bases was interested in a long-term position in Steamboat Springs with her company. Gannoe testified she had met with Bases to offer her the job days prior to her death. Gannoe said the position was long-term and included managerial possibilities.

The defense attorneys also called Nick Sharp to testify. Sharp, who was Bases’ landlord, testified he spoke with his tenant May 8. Sharp said the two talked about Bases staying at the apartment. The lease was to expire in July 2000.

“She seemed positive that she might want to” stay at the apartment, Sharp said. “Nothing was said about moving.”

During questions posed by St. James, Sharp said Bases did not say whether she would renew the lease because it was still too early to do so. Townsend then called Lisa Bickford to the stand to testify that Bases bought and used cocaine the evening of May 10.

Bickford testified she had dinner with her friend and Bases’ stepfather, Robert Mesecher.

After dinner, Bickford said she drove Bases to a liquor store where the woman bought a 12-pack of beer. Bickford then said they went to Bases’ apartment.

Bickford said at the apartment Bases had cocaine. St. James questioned Bickford whether Bases got violent or paranoid when she used the substance.

“No,” Bickford said. Bases “got quiet.”

Defense attorneys then turned to Bases’ state of mind in the days leading up to her death.

They claim Bases kept a knife in her bedroom after her vehicle was vandalized in April 2000. Prosecutors claim Johnson is responsible for the vandalism. He faces charges of criminal mischief and trespass for allegedly slashing the vehicles’ tires and interior.

Michael Porter testified he spoke to Bases at a Steamboat Springs restaurant about the vandalism within three days of her death.

“She was quite disturbed,” Porter said. “She was wondering who could be after her. She believed she was being stalked. She ended up in tears.”

The last witness called by the defense was Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Steve Vaughn.

It was Vaughn who interviewed Bases’ roommate, Ron Farmer, days after the woman’s death.

Vaughn testified that Farmer told him Bases would get “paranoid” when she used cocaine.

“He described her as very paranoid,” Vaughn said. “She would check the windows and constantly check the door to the apartment.”

Vaughn also testified Farmer said Bases was “afraid” after the vandalism. Farmer said “she armed her self with a knife and kept the knife in her bedroom,” Vaughn said.

On the day Bases was killed, Farmer told the agent Bases had called him twice at work and asked when he would be home. Farmer said “she was a little scared,” Vaughn said. When Farmer testified last week he said he could not recall making the statements to Vaughn. Farmer said that at the time of the interviews with police he was on a sedative.

During rebuttal, St. James called Bases’ mother, Sherry Mesecher, to testify. As Mesecher was about to sit down, she locked eyes with Johnson, and stared at him.

Mesecher testified she told her daughter to come and stay at her home, which is about two miles from the apartment.

“I was concerned someone had done that to her car,” Mesecher said. “I told her to come and stay at our house. She declined.”


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