One thing I get a lot in my job as a Seattle Police Detective in the Homicide Unit is deceptive behavior. You could say it comes with the territory. People seldom take accountability for their crimes. Sometimes it’s clear in an interrogation what happened and who did it, but my job as an investigator is to prove it beyond that threshold of reasonable doubt. The judge and jury won’t likely see the behavior that catches my attention in the interrogation room. When a suspect glances down or nervously fidgets during an interview, it not only may signal dishonesty, it also can reveal to the trained investigator what line of questioning makes the suspect really squirm; that can be a useful tool. Homicide interrogations, though, aren’t usually the stuff you see on television shows. As they say, it’s usually prolonged periods of boredom punctuated by brief shots of crazy adrenalin.
Last week’s Johnson interview was a good case in point. It began with what seemed to be a classic case of a burglar shot by homeowner in the middle of the night, but some unanswered questions remained. It all came to a head quickly in Scott Johnson’s second and final interrogation. I remember talking quietly to my partner, Dustin Korman, before we entered the interrogation room.
“The daughter’s testimony,” I began, “it’s really not helping the guy’s credibility.”
“I know,” Dustin replied. “There’s some serious problems, but I still don’t think this is our man. He’s just a single father trying to protect his kid. The pieces will come together and point somewhere else.”
“The daughter had given the young man a key. He wasn’t breaking and entering. He came into the house with the daughter’s permission. Stupid girl.”
“Well, let’s do this,” Dustin sighed, opening the interrogation room door.
Scott Johnson, an overweight middle-aged Caucasian, stood up when we entered. He extended his hand warmly. There was an air of confidence and a hint of something else: superiority? We got the brief pleasantries out of the way, and I took a second look at what he was wearing. He looked like he had just finished a shopping spree at the downtown Nordstroms. Despite being at least fifty pounds overweight, the gray suit fit perfectly, and his tie probably cost as much as the table at which we were seated. Taking my seat across said table, I doubted he was anywhere near as comfortable as he seemed; no one ever is in that room.
“Thanks for coming down on such short notice, Mr. Johnson,” I said.
“Oh, no problem. You’re servants of the people, after all. I just want to do everything I can to clear up this terrible accident.”
“Right,” I replied.
“Why don’t we begin,” Dustin started, “with you telling us what you recall about what happened that evening?”
“Sure, well, I went upstairs to bed around nine that Friday night. I watched some television, then went to sleep probably around ten. Just before I switched off the lights, I checked on Amy in her room down the hall—towards the staircase. She said she was working on a Physics assignment, and she’d go to bed in an hour or two. I reminded her of what we’d talked about over dinner. I didn’t want her seeing Mike, her boyfriend, again. I told her he was nothing but trouble. I reminded her of his arrest record. She nodded, but didn’t really say much. I tried to pat her on her head, but she kind of pulled away. Anyway, I went to bed after that.”
“What happened next?” I asked.
“I woke up to the sound of the front door being opened. It—“
“Was your bedroom door closed?” I questioned.
“Yeah, I think it was,” he replied, licking his lips. “Why do you ask?”
“I opened and closed the front door several times. It’s a good door and new Schlage lock. It didn’t even squeak.”
“Well, I don’t know if you have any children, detective, but, as a parent, you know, your senses get stronger about this sort of thing. I used to be able to hear Amy crying quietly in bed from the downstairs kitchen. I know when something’s wrong in my house, sir.”
“So,” I began, “you heard something when you were in bed. Did you call the police next?”
“No, I grabbed my .357 from the nightstand, and I got up. When I opened the bedroom door, I thought I saw someone coming up the stairs.”
“Were there any lights on?” Dustin asked.
“No, I didn’t switch on any lights. I didn’t want to be silhouetted, if someone had broken into the house, you know. There’s a streetlight from a street over that directs some light through the small window at the end of the hall. There was enough to see the figure climbing the stairs. I took a shooter’s stance and ordered him to stop. He—“
“What did you say?” I asked.
“I told the fucker to show his hands, or I was going to fill him full of lead.”
“You didn’t recognize the intruder,” Dustin interjected.
“No, of course not. I told him to stop. He didn’t. He kept on coming up the stairs. He was heading right towards me, and I was scared. He might have been armed. I had to do something to defend my daughter, and myself you know. I couldn’t place my family at risk, so I opened fire. I shot into his upper chest.”
“What did you do next?” I said, glancing over at the digital recorder to reassure myself it was recording.
“I don’t know. Called the police, I guess.”
I looked down at my case notes a moment. “Did you say anything to the victim?”
“What?” Scott demanded angrily, loosening his tie slightly, and wiping his forehead absentmindedly. “What do you mean?”
“Amy mentioned she heard you say something to him. She didn’t catch it perfectly, but she thought it was something like “stop bleeding so damn loudly.”
“I guess I might have said something. So what? I was mad at this man who broke into my house.”
“I think you would have recognized him when you stood over the guy to whisper in his ear, but you apparently didn’t act shocked or surprised at who it was.”
“That’s crap!” Scott declared, pounding his fist into the table. “I didn’t realize it was that punk kid, Mike, until after I called you cops. My daughter was distraught, so she got some details wrong. I was defending my home!”
“Mr. Johnson,” I began, “can you shed any light on why there was a unfired bullet on the right side of the chair under the hallway window you mentioned earlier? Also, we were wondering…we were wondering why you had been sitting in that chair in the middle of the night? Did you have some problems sleeping maybe?”
Scott’s face drained of color. The bravado disappeared. “I wasn’t sitting in that chair during the night,” he offered weakly. “Why would I be sitting in the hallway in the middle of the night?”
“That’s an excellent question,” Dustin said. “Why were you? The technicians found evidence suggesting you fired from that vantage point. The entry wound was low. The evidence is not supporting your story, Scott.”
Scott looked down at the table and towards his hands. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead. His tie was pulled away from his neck and reminded me of a noose for some reason.
“He was screwing my daughter, guys. He was doing it in my own house. I couldn’t let it continue.”
“So, you addressed it by lying in wait for him one night? Did you really think you could get away with an ambush of a young man in your own home? Do you think the laws don’t apply to you?” I shook my head and looked over at Dustin. Knowing him for as long as I had, I could recognize the subtle signs of disappointment and sadness in his eyes. Putting away a man Scott, a single father, is not something we take lightly, but, as Seattle Police Detectives, we have no choice in the matter. Scott was arrested for Murder in the First Degree.
You can read more about David in The Blood Cries Out, published by Light Switch Press.
About the author
Karl Erickson lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife and children. He considers himself primarily a writer of fiction. He is the author of two lighthearted children’s books: Toupee Mice and Tristan’s Travels. Both are published by Rafka Press. Kimberly Erickson is the wonderful illustrator. He also recently completed his first mystery novel (for older audiences), The Blood Cries Out.
Besides writing fiction, his articles have appeared in Catholic365.com, America, The National Catholic Weekly, Catholic Answers’ This Rock, Church Music Association of America’s Musica Sacra, Catholicmom.com, Episcopal Church News, Response, TiberRiver Catholic Book Reviews, as well as a guest opinion writer for both the Portland Tribune and Statesman Journal. Karl and Kimberly Erickson enjoy opportunities to speak and share their family’s spiritual journey. Karl is also one of the founding members of the Catholic Writers’ Guild, a new association of Catholic writers and artists engaged in trying to make a difference for God and bring creative renewal to Catholic literature.
In Karl’s “spare time,” he works for the State of Oregon. When time allows, he loves hiking in the Pacific Northwest forests or along the Pacific Coast, and you will often spot him carrying his trusty Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera. Karl and Kimberly also enjoy playing with their Newfoundland.