Federal Appeals Court to Hear Arguments in Johnson Death Penalty Retrial


By Larry Burkum

IOWA CITY, Iowa - A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments on whether an Iowa woman should be sentenced to death again.

A federal judge threw out the initial death sentence for Angela Johnson in 2012 after finding deficiencies in her legal representation. He ordered a new trial solely to determine whether Johnson should again be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Federal prosecutors are asking the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to broaden the scope of the new trial. They say jurors should first hear the evidence on whether Johnson is eligible for death under federal law, and then decide what penalty to issue.

A three-judge panel will hear oral arguments on that question Thursday afternoon in St. Louis.

In 2005, a jury convicted Johnson for the 1993 drug-related slayings of five people. Law enforcement officials found their bodies in 2000 south of Mason City.

Prosecutors said Johnson's boyfriend, Dustin Honken, was running a sophisticated meth operation. They said he and Johnson killed three witnesses, along with two young girls.

Honken was also convicted for the slayings and sentenced to death. A federal judge upheld the death sentences in October.
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