Texas felon accused of killing cousin with sledgehammer claims self-defense

Prosecutors say police believe defendant tampered with evidence, crime scene
David Earl Johnson, 57, is on trial on a murder charge in Waco’s 19th State District Court in...
David Earl Johnson, 57, is on trial on a murder charge in Waco’s 19th State District Court in the death of Michael Washington(KWTX)
Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 5:07 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Jurors in Waco’s 19th State District Court got crash courses in crime scene investigations and graphic autopsy results Tuesday during the second day of David Earl Johnson’s murder trial.

Johnson, 57, a six-time convicted felon with mental health issues, is charged in the February 2020 beating death of his 58-year-old cousin, Michael Washington, at Washington’s home in the 1200 block of East Calhoun Avenue.

Johnson told police he lives in Fort Worth but had been visiting his cousin in Waco for about a month when he reported he and Washington “had an incident.” Johnson called 911 a few blocks away from East Calhoun Avenue and police picked him up and brought him back to the residence.

Prosecutors Kristi DeCluitt and Anthony Smith allege Johnson killed Washington by striking him in the back of the head with a 3-pound sledgehammer and then wrapping his body in a comforter.

Police found Washington’s body in a back room of the residence and suspect he may have been dead eight to 10 hours before Johnson alerted authorities. Johnson is claiming self-defense, telling police that Washington first threatened him with the sledgehammer before he took it away from him and bludgeoned him to death.

He later told police that Washington also reached for a machete, which police found across the small room from Washington’s body. Graphic crime-scene photos displayed for the jury show Washington lying in a pool of blood and wearing a red T-shirt with “Word’s Greatest Grandpa” printed on it after the comforter was removed.

Grant Herndon, a medical examiner at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas, told jurors Washington was struck at least seven or eight times in the back of the head. He also had a swollen right eye and lacerations above his eye and on his lips.

Herndon testified that toxicology reports showed Washington had a blood-alcohol content of 0.20 %, more than twice the legal limit for intoxication.

In other prosecution testimony, Waco police crime scene technicians Marissa Popham and Ashley Roy described finding Washington’s body in the back room with a zebra-striped comforter covering the top half of his body. They took photos of the scene and took a DNA sample from Johnson, who officers testified Monday had no blood on his clothes, hands or shoes.

Popham said there were no visible signs of blood on the sledgehammer, either, until she conducted a field test for blood by swabbing it with a chemical. While there was evidence of blood on the sledgehammer, Popham said there was no  blood on the machete.

DeCluitt hung the blood-stained comforter on a rack in the courtroom and asked Roy to spray a liquid called “Blue Star” on it to demonstrate how the substance illuminates blood evidence. Roy also shined a flashlight through tears in the comforter, indicating that Johnson may have hit Washington in the head with the hammer after he was covered up.

Defense attorney Melanie Walker objected to the courtroom demonstration, but Judge Thomas West allowed it.

Roy testified she used the liquid to detect blood on towels in the bathroom and in and around the bathroom sink drain, supporting DeCluitt’s opening statement Monday in which she said police think Johnson changed clothes and cleaned up the crime scene after he killed Washington.

Johnson is charged as a habitual offender because he has three felony convictions for aggravated assault, one for attempted murder, one for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and one for forgery by passing, according to court records.

If convicted of murder, he faces a minimum of 25 years and up to life in prison.

Prosecution testimony resumes Wednesday morning.

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