Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for December 13, 2013

Johnson sentenced to federal pen time for robbery, shooting

The Yukon Supreme Court sentenced a young woman to more than three years in a federal penitentiary for her role in a Haines Junction robbery and high-speed chase that climaxed in the shooting of an RCMP officer.

By Christopher Reynolds on December 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm

The Yukon Supreme Court sentenced a young woman to more than three years in a federal penitentiary for her role in a Haines Junction robbery and high-speed chase that climaxed in the shooting of an RCMP officer.

Jessica Johnson, 23, received 39 1/2 months on three counts — to which she had pleaded guilty — including robbery, wounding a police officer and firing a rifle at peace officers while fleeing arrest.

Judge Leigh Gower said Thursday the sentence would serve as “denunciation and deterrence,” while not being “so harsh as to crush any hope” of rehabilitation.

The sentence, whittled down from five years because of time already served in pre-sentence custody, was substantially lighter than the Crown’s suggested seven-year jail term.

Johnson will become eligible for parole about 13 months from her sentencing date, Dec. 12, 2013.

Johnson sat up straight as the judge read out his reasoning, her left foot tucked under her right thigh. She did not react as she heard the sentence, but maintained a restrained smile as she spoke from across the bar with her supporters in the public gallery afterward.

Before the session began, she swivelled constantly in her chair, telling some of the roughly dozen onlookers: “I’m nervous.”

Gower said mitigating factors included Johnson’s role as “a party” to the critical rifle shot — she did not fire the bullet that wounded the officer — and the fact that she was high on cocaine at the time.

Her remorse, youth, typically non-violent behaviour, unstable upbringing and aboriginal background also factored into the decision.

Christopher Cornell, Johnson’s former partner — in crime and in love — was found guilty in October on all charges connected to the Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque affair.

Those charges included two counts of attempted murder arising from a rifle shot fired from a speeding SUV at a police officer and conservation officer.

Cornell is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 23.

On Sept. 26, 2011, Cornell and Johnson broke into Madley’s General Store around 6 a.m.

Store custodian Frank Parent tried to restrain them and was punched in the face, breaking his nose and knocking him to the floor. He was then doused in bear spray.

The duo removed the store’s safe with a pallet jack and tried to load it into a stolen Chevrolet Blazer.

They abandoned the effort when RCMP Cpl. Kim MacKellar and conservation officer Shane Oakley arrived on scene in a fully marked police truck.

A chase ensued, with the SUV speeding north along the Alaska Highway toward Destruction Bay, both vehicles hitting 130 km/hour at one point.

A chainsaw and a quarter of deer meat were thrown from the Chevy in an attempt to obstruct the police truck.

The pursuit ended 32 kilometres later when a bullet fired from a stolen .375 H&H rifle smashed through MacKellar’s windshield.

The bullet blew through the radar unit mounted on the dash, unleashing metal and plastic shrapnel into the cab.

MacKellar was hit in the eyes and chest with bullet fragments that ripped through his police uniform and pounded his bullet-proof vest.

Evacuated to Whitehorse General Hospital and then to Vancouver General Hospital, he required several eye surgeries as a result.

There are still fragments in his left eye.

Johnson and Cornell hitched a ride back to the Pine Lake Campground after the Chevy went into the ditch 12 kilometres beyond where the shooting occurred.

With a full-on emergency police response underway, the couple was seen near the campground and subsequently arrested at gunpoint by an officer on his way to Haines Junction.

Judge Gower said Johnson’s relationship with Cornell was “a significant concern for this court.

“She is reported to have said that she still loves him.” Gower found this perplexing, “when it appears it was he who led her astray in committing the current offences.”

On Monday, however, Johnson told the court the two were no longer together.

Judge Gower stayed the remaining six charges against Johnson.

Gower cited psychological and “criminogenic risk” assessments in his decision. A forensic psychiatrist said Johnson “tends to blame others for her choices” and that a “tendency towards impulsivity elevates her risk to reoffend.”

A Whitehorse Correctional Centre progress log lists scores of “negative entries” for Johnson.

But the judge also pointed to her participation in counselling, craft workshops, Alcoholics Anonymous, First Nations language classes, art therapy and meetings with a psychologist and a pastor.

“She is taking steps to deal with ... substance abuse…. She is beginning to understand herself a bit more,” the counsellor wrote in a letter to the court.

Five members of the Kluane First Nation elders council submitted a letter this week. “It (would be) a sad day to see ... Jessica lose so many years of her life when it is trauma that put her there,” it read.

Johnson endured an extremely unstable upbringing. Born to a mother in her mid-teens, Johnson suffered sexual abuse from two family members from age seven into her teens.

She moved frequently, living in Carmacks, Burwash Landing and Carcross.

At eight years old she began to drink alcohol. By age 11 she was into marijuana.

Johnson was living on her own and selling drugs by the time she was 15, and using cocaine and heroin intervenously two years after that.

She dropped out of school in Grade 8.

Johnson likely suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has symptoms for an anti-social disorder and ADHD, according to a psychologist.

She also “meets the criteria for auditory processing disorder,” Gower said.

Johnson read a statement in court Monday, apologizing to MacKellar, Oakley and Haines Junction at large.

“She seems genuinely remorseful and ashamed for her actions,” Gower said.

He recommended Johnson spend time in the Okimaw Ohci healing lodge in southern Saskatchewan, as well as a B.C. facility, as part of her rehabilitation and recovery.

CommentsAdd a comment


Dec 13, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Good job to glamorize this horrible nasty incident as a Bonnie-and-Clyde-sequel event. These kids were on drugs and seeking more money for their habit!  Why try to say this is a love-struck relationship?  Let’s just give them more ammunition for the next time?

James Wales

Dec 13, 2013 at 8:09 pm

The Justice system continues to shun responsibility to keep peace officers under a preferred umbrella of protection. 
Meaningless sentences to offenders like in this case may force police to shoot first, shoot straight, and shoot often.
Peace officers rely on the justice system, but time and again the system breaks down in court.

June Jackson

Dec 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Everyone has a sad story..Jessica’s got her a light sentence, hardly seems like justice at all.
Was anyone really surprised with this sentence?

Just Say'in

Dec 14, 2013 at 11:42 am

13 months and out. Are you kidding me? What a joke and a travesty.  How come no drug charges added on?

Just Say'in

Dec 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

“She was High on Cocaine at the time” What kind of excuse is that? Does that defense work for impaired driving? Sorry I was drunk so I didn’t know I couldn’t or shouldn’t drive?  This is not an excuse only grounds for another charge. We really need to have a good look at our Justice (pardon me) Legal system.

north of 60

Dec 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Is this yet another case of someone who can appear to be clean and rehabilitating as long as they’re in jail with nothing else to do?  So what happens when they’re out of jail and back in with the same social scene that got them in trouble?

Unless these cases are kept in jail till they learn a marketable skill, the likelihood of re-offending is great.

john jack

Dec 16, 2013 at 9:48 am

what a JOKE!!!!!!

Add a comment

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your full name and email address are required before your comment will be posted.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.

Comment preview