Reason, Liberty, & Culture

Nikolaus Johnson

Bristol Tennessee Cop Killer gets death penalty

Compiled by Lewis Loflin

Update March 18, 2013: The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Johnson. He will die in 2014.

Update: Court upholds conviction and death penalty for Nickolus Johnson March 05, 2012 The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a request by convicted killer Nickolus Johnson to overturn his first degree murder conviction and death penalty. Read the entire transcript.

Alleged cop-killer, Nickolus Johnson, age 28, appeared before Sullivan County Judge Jerry Beck in December 8, 2005. Over two and a half years later, his murder trial is set to begin with jury selection in April 2007. The fun started almost from the first minute as Johnson accused the Sullivan county sheriff's deputies of brutality.

Sheriff Wayne Anderson strongly denied this. Johnson also tried to fire his attorney for among other things asking for a mental evaluation of him, claiming they won't listen to his side of the story, won't visit him in jail, or take his phone calls. Judge Jerry Beck wasn't having any part of it. Johnson has been so disruptive they've threatened to gag him.

Johnson is accused of ambushing Bristol, Tennessee police officer Mark Vance in November 2004 shooting him in the face with a .357 magnum. Vance was responding to a domestic disturbance call over Johnson getting his 17 (at the time) year-old girlfriend pregnant. (It's reported she had triplets.) Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

To quote a local news editorial: "Johnson's case has been set for trial two previous times - in November 2005 and July 2006. His lawyers asked to delay the trial both times so that Johnson could receive mental evaluations. The defense is expected to contend that Johnson was schizophrenic at the time of the shooting...Vance, 30, was shot at point-blank range in the head as he climbed the stairs...Johnson, a former gang member and convicted felon, was caught on a police cruiser audiotape admitting that he killed Vance..."

So far racism hasn't entered into this. In nearby Knoxville, four black men murdered, raped, and tortured a young white couple after a car jacking, while the press was in a frenzy over the Duke Lacrosse Case. This has brought accusations of press bias of not reporting black on white crime, while over reporting even the most minor white on black crime.

In this case like Knoxville, the press has never mentioned the race of Johnson, this is known only from his pictures. (He is black, Vance was white.) I don't believe race has anything to do with this and local officials have bent over backwards to see it doesn't. But what is really damaging to Johnson are his pictures in the Bristol Herald Courier. They show what to many seem an unrepentant "smartass" to quote some residents. Security will be tight.

Conclusion: Johnson to face death

This case hit home with me in an indirect way. I knew his mother Kathy Johnson Bunch. She worked for a social agency helping my disabled wife. My impression was she seemed intelligent and caring. So when I got a call from her telling me she was Johnson's mother and she thought my writing on this website was unfair, I decided to tone it down and await the outcome. Regardless of my feelings for her, it seems I was vindicated. But this trial still bothers me for a lot of reasons.

My first question is why Vance seemed to stumble blindly into an apparent ambush. He got a call about a man with gun and should have been more cautious. According to news reports, Tiffany Mitchell and Termaine McMorris went to meet Vance outside, told him everything was OK. Vance said he had to go inside and check anyway. As the three walked up the stairs inside the house Tiffany claimed to have told Vance, "He's got a gun." Did this pair really warn Vance or put him at ease?

This case was full of losers from the beginning. Johnson's girlfriend Brittany Mitchell had already had one illegitimate child by another man, and at 19 has triplets by Johnson. (All four are not in her custody according to press reports.) Johnson had already fathered two other illegitimate children by two other women for a total of five.

In 1997 he was convicted of malicious wounding and was a convicted felon. All during the trial he showed no remorse, and regardless of some forensics questions, his own words on tape (in the police car) buried him. He tried to fire his attorneys, refused to present mitigating testimony, then changed his mind. Both he and his family played the race card, the jury didn't buy it. They sentenced him to death.

Press coverage

The Bristol Herald Courier did a superb job covering this case, but there was a virtual blackout in the national press. I did find one very minor piece from the AP, but it seemed to almost blame the jury. Johnson's race was never brought up while the unwarranted hysteria and attacks against the Duke Lacrosse team raged day and night. Another high profile black murders white case was raging in nearby Knoxville, suffered a similar news blackout as did the attack in Long Beach, California where three white women were attacked and badly injured by a gang of ten blacks.

I did find this case was removed from Indymedia for some reason, but then they went on to glorify Mumia Abu-Jamal, a black Panther and Nation of Islam convert that murdered a white Philadelphia police officer. He is supported by the NAACP and Keith Ellison, our "first Muslim congressman." Equally disturbing is the glorification of trash like Ice-T, who produced such great music as "Cop Killer."

Some extracts 04/28/2007 Kingsport Times-News

While the jury took little more than an hour and a half, including lunch, to find Johnson guilty of first-degree murder on Tuesday, deliberations during the sentencing phase of the trial took much longer. The jury had three options: life in prison, life in prison without parole, or death. The jury returned its verdict at 4:50 p.m. Friday, but after examining the paperwork Circuit Judge Jerry Beck directed them to write the verdict in accordance with statutory requirements and sent them back to the jury room. By 6 p.m., jurors were back in the courtroom.

They again said Johnson's previous conviction on malicious wounding and the fact he had killed a law enforcement officer who was performing his duties outweighed all of the favorable testimony his family and friends had given on Thursday. Vance was responding to a domestic call involving a man threatening a woman with a gun on Belmont Avenue when he was killed.

According to testimony, Johnson said that if he were going back to prison it would be for murder, not statutory rape. He also said he would kill the first person to enter the home, whether it be Walter Mitchell, father of Britney Mitchell who gave birth to Johnson's triplet daughters, or a police officer...

Bristol Police Chief Blaine Wade said, "We're satisfied with the verdict. But it's sad it won't bring Mark back." Vance age 30, left a six-year-old daughter.