The defendant in one of the most infamous murder cases in Belleville is back in St. Clair County Jail and waiting to stand trial.
Samuel L. Johnson, 51, will stand trial in the triple stabbing deaths of sisters Doris Fischer, 79, and Dorothy Bone, 82, and their hairstylist Michael Cooney. Their bodies were found in Cooney’s home-based hair salon in west Belleville on March 2, 2005.
Johnson was charged in September, but was in Missouri serving prison time on an unrelated case. After he finished serving the Missouri sentence, he unsuccessfully fought extradition to St. Clair County to face the murder charges. Johnson remained Saturday in the St. Clair County Jail in lieu of $3 million bail.
Before the case gets to a jury, Tom Keefe III, Johnson’s attorney, will ask Judge Randy Kelley to throw out statements Johnson made to police in 2005.
Johnson was arrested six days after the killings by the St. Louis Police Department. He remained in Missouri for six weeks fighting his extradition. Once paperwork to extradite Johnson was complete, three Belleville police officers went to pick him up April 22, 2005. Johnson previously declined to talk to police without a lawyer. But during that car ride, Detective Doug Jones wrote a report noting that Johnson changed his mind.
There was no recording of the conversation that occurred in the car.
“As the court knows, whenever any interaction occurs off-camera between officers and any interview subject — much less the prime suspect in a triple murder — the first thing they do once they get back on camera is to confirm the substance of what did and did not occur,” Keefe argues in a motion asking that the statements not be allowed as evidence.
And because that did not occur, Keefe wants two subsequent statements given by Johnson on May 23 and June 2 stricken from evidence, too.
“The simple truth is this: If the car ride played out the way Jones claims in his report, they would have confirmed it on video. That confirmation never occurred, because Samuel Johnson never waived anything,” the motion states.
“Sam Johnson never confessed. Sam Johnson is innocent. We didn’t file this motion because we’re trying to hide incriminating statements. We filed it to protect invaluable constitutional rights, which belong to us all, and which we believe were violated,” Keefe said.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly declined to comment, citing Supreme Court rules that bar prosecutors from commenting on pending cases.
Johnson was not charged with the murders in 2005. He was charged with attempting to burglarize Cooney’s home more than a year earlier. Former police Chief Terry Delaney called Johnson the “prime suspect” in the killings, but prosecutors disagreed at the time, saying there was not enough physical evidence to charge him.
Johnson was convicted of the attempted burglary and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. He maintained his innocence in the killings.
For more than a year, no one was charged with the killings.
But, in 2006, the case was revived. The Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis was activated and, this time, the case was centered on Cooney’s Nissan Pathfinder, which was stolen from outside the salon that morning and found abandoned the next day behind a north St. Louis apartment building.
A fingerprint found inside the Pathfinder led to charges against teenager Darrell “Rell” Lane. Lane went on trial, but a jury found him not guilty.
During Lane’s trial, one of Cooney’s customers testified that Johnson came to the salon the day before the killings and told Cooney, “I want my money.”
Police reports obtained by the News-Democrat in 2010 showed:
▪ In the weeks before the killings there were 12 calls placed to Cooney’s phone, including two calls the morning of the killings, made from the cell phone that Johnson was using. Police determined those calls made the morning of the killings bounced from a cell tower that was less than 2 miles away from Cooney’s house at 7813 W. Main St. in Belleville.
▪ After the killings, Johnson, who was unemployed at the time of the killings, bought clothes, shoes, marijuana and a 1994 Lincoln Town Car.
▪ Cooney carried large amounts of cash for his estate-sale business.
In an interview with News-Democrat reporters in 2005, Anna Nicole Hobbs, who was then the girlfriend of Demico Evans, Johnson’s cousin and roommate, told reporters that Johnson took a hook-bladed knife from her nightstand the day before the killings. Hobbs told reporters how a nervous Johnson returned the next day with a wad of cash, saying he had “messed up.”
His trial is set to begin Oct. 16.