Supreme Court upholds Drew County murder sentence

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the sentence of a Drew County man who is serving two life sentences for first-degree murder.

Mark David Johnson, 51, contended that Circuit Judge Don Glover erred when he admitted certain evidence into the sentencing phase of Johnson’s trial, and when he failed to grant a mistrial after certain comments were made by prosecutors.

In addition to the two life sentences, Johnson also was sentenced to 30 years for attempted first-degree murder and 20 years for first-degree battery.

Johnson negotiated a plea and agreed to let a Drew County Circuit Court jury fix his sentence.

On Oct. 4, 2010, Johnson was served divorce papers by his estranged wife, Heather. Two days later, Johnson crashed his pickup truck into Heather Johnson’s Jeep Cherokee. Heather Johnson was in the back seat of the Jeep, which was being driven by her friend Shelly Paccio. Paccio’s niece, Austin Paccio, was riding in the passenger side seat. She was 20 and eight months pregnant with a baby girl.

As a result of the collision, Austin Paccio and he unborn daughter died. Heather Johnson and Shelly Paccio received serious injuries.

During the sentencing hearing, Heather Johnson testified that she was in the process of divorcing Mark Johnson because she caught him molesting a minor girl.

In his appeal, Mark Johnson said that testimony should not have been allowed, but the state Supreme Court ruled that because his attorney did not make an objection during the sentencing hearing, the court would not consider it on appeal.

Mark Johnson also contended that a mistrial should have been declared when prosecutors made comments about Johnson’s lack of remorse in response to the defense’s claim that Johnson had demonstrated remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions.

Johnson contended the prosecutor’s comments were made because he did not testify, but the Supreme Court disagreed.

The high court said prosecutors questioned one witness specifically about Johnson’s actions after the crash, and that testimony was that he had done nothing to indicate he was concerned about the occupants of the Jeep.