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Appeals Court reaffirms decision in Johnson case

Aloha strangler wins appeal for new trial.

Martin Allen Johnson, in 2013.For the second time in four years, the Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled that an Aloha man sentenced to death row for raping and murdering a 15-year-old Metzger girl should have his case retried.

Martin Allen Johnson has been on Oregon’s death row since 2001. The 59-year-old Aloha man was convicted of eight counts of aggravated murder for drugging, raping and strangling Heather Fraser at his home in 1998.

In an opinion released Wednesday, March 30, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled for the second time that Johnson should be given a new trial, claiming that his defense attorneys should have done a better job presenting his case to jurors.

The court ruled similarly in 2013, claiming that Johnson didn’t receive a proper defense when he was tried and convicted, but that decision was appealed by Jeff Premo, the superintendent of Oregon State Penitentiary.

According to prosecutors, Fraser left her home on Taylors Ferry Road at about 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 of 1998. She went to the then 41-year-old Johnson’s home in Aloha to use his computer. The next day, her body was found washed ashore in Warrenton on the Oregon Coast. Her blood was later found in Johnson’s car.

Johnson told his attorneys that he and Fraser had met up that night, taken drugs and had sex. He told his defense team that he had passed out, and when he awoke, he found Fraser dead from an apparent drug overdose.

Fearing he would be arrested for her murder, Johnson wrapped the body in a blanket, then dumped her remains off the Astoria-Megler Bridge into the Columbia River in the middle of the night.

Johnson’s attorneys refused to look into his claims that she had died of an overdose. No toxicology test was done to corroborate his account of what happened, and no medical experts were called to testify about that possibility, despite the fact that high levels of morphine were in her system at the time of her death.

Instead, his attorneys claimed that Fraser was alive when Johnson threw her from the bridge, claiming she drowned in the Columbia River.

Heather FraserHis attorneys relied on a strategy they knew would fail, Johnson said. They told jurors to acquit Johnson not because he was innocent, but because the crime had technically occurred in Clatsop County, not Washington County.

On appeal, Johnson argued that if jurors had been told his version of events, they might have shown leniency.

Appeals Court Judge Meagan Flynn agreed, writing in her opinion that “testimony from a toxicologist that the victim died from a morphine overdose would have allowed (Johnson’s) defense counsel to argue that (he) was guilty of a different offense — such as manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide or felony murder not committed intentionally — that, unlike aggravated murder, does not implicate the death penalty.”

Alternatively, Flynn wrote, the jury could have still found him guilty of aggravated murder, but ruled he didn’t deliberately cause her death, and not imposed the death sentence.

Just when Johnson’s trial will begin is unclear. The Washington County District Attorney’s Office could appeal the decision to the state’s Supreme Court.

A history of violence

Johnson had a history of attacking underage women. He was accused of preying on several underage girls at the time of his arrest. Prosecutors claimed that Johnson met them through fake petitions to lower the drinking age. According to investigators, Johnson would befriend the girls, take them to nightclubs, provide them with alcohol and drugs, and later have sex with them.

During his 2001 trial, some of his alleged victims testified that Johnson would slip drugs into their drinks to knock them out or put chemically soaked rags over their faces. They would wake to Johnson sexually assaulting them.

On the night of Fraser’s death, police pulled Johnson over for a routine traffic stop along Highway 30, a principal road between Warrenton and Portland.

The day after Fraser’s body was discovered, Johnson fled the state. He stole his brother’s car and credit cards, and wasn’t seen again for nearly a year, until a segment about him aired on the television series “America’s Most Wanted.”

Johnson was found living in Orlando, Fla., and arrested.