After 7 Years in Prison, Dale Johnston Awaits Freedom TodayBOB LEWIS , Associated Press
May. 11, 1990 1:53 PM ET
NEWARK, OHIO NEWARK, Ohio (AP) _ A man who served more than seven years in prison for two mutilation slayings he says he didn't commit prepared today to leave jail for good and begin fighting to clear his name.
Dale Johnston learned of his release Thursday after an appeals court ruled that prosecutors could not use evidence they claimed was crucial to obtaining a second conviction in the 1982 deaths of his stepdaughter and her fiance. The prosecutors then dropped the case.
''This day I knew would get here sooner or later,'' Johnston said in an interview at the Licking County Justice Center. ''I made it my No. 1 priority. Now I plan to make finding the real killer of those kids my No. 1 priority.''
Annette Cooper Johnston, 18, and Todd L. Schultz, 19, both of Logan were last seen alive in that southeast Ohio community on Oct. 4, 1982. Their torsos were found 10 days later in the Hocking River. Other body parts were unearthed in a cornfield.
Prosecutors contended jealousy was the motive for the killings and that Johnston had a sexual relationship with his stepdaughter.
Johnston, 56, was convicted in 1984 on two counts of aggravated murder and was sentenced to death. The Ohio Supreme Court in 1988 threw out the verdict and ordered a new trial, ruling that a witness whose memory had been refreshed by hypnosis had been improperly allowed to testify.
The second trial was put on hold last July after Judge William Gillie ruled that statements police obtained from Johnston during 8 1/2 hours of questioning without a lawyer present were inadmissible.
Gillie also threw out clothing taken from Johnston, including boots that prosecutors linked to footprints near where the bodies were found.
On Thursday, a state appeals court unanimously upheld Gillie's decision, saying police tried to deceive and coerce Johnston into making statements against his will and gave no legitimate reason for so lengthy an interrogation.
Prosecutor Charles Gerken dropped the case Thursday afternoon, and Johnston would be released as soon as the order is filed with the Franklin County clerk of courts, said Thomas Tyack, one of Johnston's attorneys.
''I still believe in the criminal justice system but I was a victim of some members of that profession who were not the best that they should be,'' Johnston said in Thursday's interview. He would not elaborate.
Johnston won't say where he'll go after his release for fear of retribution from people he claims have threatened him, his family and his attorneys. He and another defense lawyer, Robert Suhr, declined to identify any of the people.
Johnston's ex-wife, Sarah, said she was happy but indicated she still suffered emotional wounds. ''You have to get over the grief. But it's always there every day. I kid you not. Every day,'' she said.
The Johnstons are divorced. She remarried and is living in southern Ohio outside Hocking County.
Schultz's father, Donald, said there is no doubt in his mind that Johnston killed the two. ''He knows who did it. He did it,'' Schultz said. He noted that Johnston was found guilty by three trial judges.