Beaverton man guilty of killing his grandson's father

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Jeffrey Brian Johnson, right, listens with his defense attorney Stephen Houze on Thursday as Judge Thomas Kohl sentenced Johnson to 25 years to life for fatally shooting Ryan Lee Johnson, the father of his grandson, on Jan. 26, 2012. Responding to a screaming, hysterical phone call from her husband, Tim, on Jan. 26, 2012, Melissa Davis arrived at the Bales Thriftway in Aloha around 3:30 p.m.

Initially believing two of her stepsons were shot dead and frantically searching for her husband, Davis ran to a Washington County sheriff’s deputy she knew as a friend.

“I said to him, ‘I know who did this. It was Jeff and Megan Johnson!’”

That was one of many heart-rending revelations Ryan Lee Johnson’s family members shared on Thursday afternoon at the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro. Circuit Judge Thomas Kohl sentenced Jeffrey Brian Johnson to 25 years to life in prison for murdering 2008 Aloha High School graduate Ryan Johnson, his daughter Megan’s former boyfriend and Melissa Davis’ stepson.

After listening to emotionally charged stories and statements from Ryan Johnson’s family members and Stephen Houze, Jeffrey Johnson’s defense attorney, Kohl evoked his own religious faith as he sentenced Johnson, 54, to serve the rest of his life — a minimum of 25 years before possibility of parole — for gunning down Ryan Johnson in the Bales Thriftway parking lot that January afternoon.

“There is no sin that is unforgivable, except for the sin of rejecting God,” Kohl said to Jeffrey Johnson. “I hope for the one day when you do face the ultimate judge, that you’ve made the right decision.”

Child custody root of tragedy

Following a trial that began in January, a 15-member Washington County jury deliberated two and a half hours on Feb. 26 before unanimously finding Johnson guilty of murder and unlawful use of a weapon in the public slaying.

The incident proved the deadly culmination of a bitter custody dispute over Rylen, the now 5-year-old son of Ryan Johnson and Jeffrey’s daughter Megan.

Clad in an orange jumpsuit from the Washington County Jail with his legs shackled, Jeffrey Johnson betrayed no emotion during Thursday’s proceedings. He chose not to address the approximately 30 supporters and family members gathered in the courtroom, many of whom wore black hoodies adorned with Ryan Johnson’s name and the date of his murder. Houze spoke on Jeffrey’s behalf.

“The dimension of this tragic occurrence is palpable,” the Portland attorney said. “The pain and suffering are real, deep, lasting and complicated in many ways (that) are difficult to understand. This is an enormous tragedy. To say anything other than that would not be describing it accurately.”

Aloha resident Tim Davis was one of several family members who shared memories of Ryan, along with grief, sadness and anger directed at Jeffrey Johnson.

“The last two years have been very traumatizing,” he said. “I have nightmares, sleepless nights, and bouts of anxiety. I have had many nights of pain and a roller coaster of emotions about losing my son to senseless violence.”

Claiming Jeffrey Johnson “had no business involving himself in this (custody) matter,” Davis said, “all Ryan wanted to do was be a good father and provide for his child just the way I taught him.”

Davis expressed concern that the violence might not end with his son’s murder.

“I’m paranoid now that someone from Jeff’s family will try and shoot me in the back of the head the same way,” he said. “In grocery stores I’m constantly looking behind me. (Post traumatic stress disorder) is very real for me. I know I have it from what I saw that day.”

Chaos at Aloha market

During the trial, Washington County Chief Deputy District Attorney Roger Hanlon described how Jeffrey Johnson followed Ryan and his stepbrother Austin to the Thriftway parking lot at 17675 S.W. Farmington Road that Thursday afternoon on Jan. 26, 2012.

He parked his vehicle and approached the brothers from behind near the store’s front doors. Around 3:15 p.m., Johnson fired six rounds at Ryan’s head and fled the scene in his vehicle.

Police found Ryan dead at the scene and about 30 minutes later apprehended Jeffrey Johnson at a traffic stop in Sherwood.

Johnson’s trial began on Jan. 14, but was interrupted for six weeks as defense attorney Stephen Houze challenged Judge Kohl’s order that Jeffrey Johnson undergo a psychological evaluation by a state-appointed doctor. The Oregon Supreme Court turned down Houze’s request to review Kohl’s ruling before the trial resumed, Hanlon said.

In Jeffrey Johnson’s defense, Houze argued that overpowering fear for the safety of his family and grandchild drove his client to kill Ryan Johnson. Houze lobbied unsuccessfully for the jury to consider a lesser, first-degree manslaughter charge.

A shining light

Recalling the day of her stepson’s murder, Melissa Davis said she received “the worst phone call of my life” at work. “All I could hear was screaming and sirens.”

She experienced a brief flash of relief when she realized Austin, who she thought had been shot with Ryan, was very much alive.

“Someone hugged me from behind, and it was Austin,” she said. “At that moment, I knew he was alive. I grabbed him, and he told me Jeff ran up behind Ryan and shot him several times. He told me Jeff was looking into his eyes and smiled at him when he was executing his brother.”

Melissa remained incredulous that Jeffrey Johnson skipped numerous steps a rational person would take in a family custody case.

“Jeff did not have to do this,” she said. “He never came to us as grandparents and said, ‘Let’s sit down and come up with a plan to help Megan and Ryan work through these issues.’ He never did that. Instead, he executed Ryan!”

Reflecting on feelings portrayed in a series of pictures the prosecution showed the courtroom of Ryan Johnson smiling and playing with his young son, Ryan’s mother Amy Johnson described her son as a positive influence on those around him.

“Ryan had this light around him that just glowed,” she said. “I know that when he passed, he went straight to heaven. He would’ve become an excellent father if he’d had time to become a father.”

Shared grief

In addition to his faith, Judge Kohl shared his personal grief from the brutal 2006 murder of his 21-year-old daughter, Meghan, as he asked Ryan Johnson’s family to consider someday forgiving Jeffrey Johnson.

“I know something of what you folks have been going through,” he said. “I still cry buckets ... Now I have the freedom that forgiveness brings. This does not let Jeff Johnson off the hook. It let’s you off the hook, and brings you freedom.”

Ryan Johnson’s family acknowledged the judge’s pleas respectfully, but agreed they were not ready to forgive Jeffrey Johnson.

Ryan’s grandmother Nancy Avey became emotional while directly addressing Johnson in the courtroom.

“Our hearts are broken,” she said through tears, her voice trembling. “You monster. You talk about forgiveness. Not one of these (family members) have ever said, ‘We’re sorry for the loss of your boy.’ ”

After the proceedings, Ryan’s brother Calvin Davis said the sentence “gives us some closure, knowing he’ll be in prison the rest of his life. It takes some of the pain off my shoulders of losing my brother and my best friend.”

Davis expressed a wish that Rylen, his nephew, will eventually return to his father’s family. The boy now presumably lives out of state with Megan, who Melissa Davis said cut off contact with her ex-boyfriend’s family before her father killed Ryan.

“My only hope is one day Rylen shows up at our door,” Calvin said, “so we can tell him what a great father he had.”

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