Crystal Paxson was found guilty of first-degree murder in the June 9, 2012, shooting death of James “Sandy” Johnson, 65, of Pine Bluff after a Jefferson County Circuit Court jury deliberating about an hour and a half Thursday.
Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr. sentenced Paxson to 25 years in prison on the first-degree murder charge and an additional 10 years on a separate charge of using a firearm to commit the crime, with that sentence to run consecutively, or after the sentence for first-degree murder.
Paxson will have to serve 70 percent of the total sentence before being eligible to apply for parole.
Johnson, who was the owner of Pawn City pawn shop, was shot five times while sitting in a recliner in a house in the 4300 block of Robin Hood Lane and was pronounced dead at the scene.
He and Paxson had what witnesses during the trial Wednesday called “an of again, off again relationship.” Testifying in her defense Thursday, Paxson called Johnson “her boyfriend” and later “her best friend.” She also worked for Johnson at the pawn shop but told defense attorney Keith Hall she wanted to be a flower designer but Johnson didn’t want her to leave the shop.
On the day of the shooting, Paxson said she and Johnson had been involved in several different altercations, and Johnson had taken her to her house when he went to a birthday party. She said she returned to his house and while he was gone, took a .38-caliber pistol that was on top of a gun safe and put it under a pillow on the couch where she was sitting.
After Johnson returned home, she said the two began to argue again and Johnson picked up a glass of red wine and started to throw it at her.
“I put the gun up and I shot,” Paxson said. “I don’t know how many times I shot.”
Later, while being cross examined by Deputy Prosecutor Maxie Kizer, Paxson said she “closed her eyes” when she pulled the trigger.
In his closing argument, Kizer said that claim was “a bunch of hooey. He (Johnson) was shot five times.”
Police recovered a .38-caliber handgun with five empty shell casings and Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Erickson testified Wednesday that Johnson received wounds to the chest, under the right arm, the right hip and the right buttock and he removed four bullets from the body.
Paxson told the first police officers arriving at the house that she didn’t mean to kill Johnson and in her testimony, she renewed that claim.
“I didn’t want him to go away,” she said. “I just wanted him to leave me alone that day.
“I can’t bring him back,” Paxson said. “I would take a beating every day of my life to bring him back.”
Paxson also said that Johnson bought her the vehicle she was driving, paid for the house where she lived when she wasn’t living with him and was “her sole means of support.”
In his closing, Hall hammered on that, saying: “This guy was her meal ticket. Why would she punch that ticket and make it no longer available?”
He also described the relationship between Johnson and Paxson as a “toxic relationship, a relationship between two drunk people, who didn’t behave like normal people.”
Paxson testified that Johnson had been abusive to her since shortly after the two met more than six years ago but that abuse escalated during the last few months before the shooting.
“It was constant the last six months,” she said. “He was drinking more. I was drinking more.”
Asked why she continued the relationship if it was abusive, Paxson said, “I loved him.”
Paxson also told Kizer that she had smoked synthetic marijuana on the day of the shooting.
“You said Sandy was your best friend and you took him away. What do you do to your enemies?,” Kizer said, prompting a quick objection from Hall.
After the defense rested, prosecutors called several witnesses who testified that it was Paxson who instigated the fights with Johnson, not the other way around, and also that Paxson was not a truthful person.
“She told me she had a brain tumor and had three months to live,” said Sarah Milner, who also worked at the pawn shop.
Asked by Chief Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Juneau when Paxson told her that, Milner said “about five years ago.”
Regarding defense testimony that Johnson was the aggressor and was abusive, Kizer said in his close: “Dynamite comes in little bitty packages. She’s (Paxson) tiny but she’s lethal.”
Hall meanwhile said Paxson was “a little girl who was scared, scared, scared (of Johnson).”
The defense will have 30 days to appeal the conviction.