“There is nothing I can say to make this better," Steven R. Johnson said in pleading guilty to premeditated first-degree murder. He was immediately sentenced to life in prison.
Upset that his wife was going to leave him and take their young son, Steven R. Johnson sought refuge in the basement of their St. Paul home the evening of Jan. 6. He threw back a few vodka shots and then went to a box where he kept a loaded handgun he had stolen from his wife’s father over Christmas.
“Why did you take the gun out of the box?” asked Johnson’s attorney, Connie Iversen, during a plea hearing Friday.
“To scare her,” said Johnson.
But Johnson testified at the hearing that between 6 and 7 p.m. he stashed the gun in his back pocket, climbed the stairs to the second floor and shot his wife, Manya Johnson, once in the temple. He testified that he called her mother just minutes later, about 7:13 p.m., to keep up a daily phone routine to thwart suspicion. By 7:25 p.m. he was at a hardware store on University Avenue, buying the saw he would use to dismember his wife in the bathtub.
Johnson, 35, pleaded guilty Friday in Ramsey County District Court to premeditated first-degree murder and was immediately sentenced to life in prison.
“There is nothing I can say to make this better,” Johnson said. “Saying sorry is not enough; it will never be enough. I will live with this regret for the rest of my life.”
Judge Lezlie Ott Marek had little sympathy.
“Mr. Johnson, your crime was heinous,” she said. “It has shocked this community. By all accounts, Manya Jewel was a very fine human being, and she was a bright light to all those who knew her.”
Under questioning by Iversen, Johnson gave this account of the day he killed his wife:
The couple argued earlier that day because Manya Johnson, 32, found a bottle of liquor in the car and did not like her husband drinking. Their 3½-year marriage had been faltering since the birth of their son, who was 18 months old when his mother died.
Johnson testified that he had lunch with his family to celebrate his sister’s birthday while Manya Johnson stayed home with their son, Oliver. The plan was to open presents at the Johnson home in the 1400 block of Sheldon Av., but when his family arrived, Manya Johnson said the couple had dinner plans, which was false. His family left around 5:30 p.m.
The couple argued, and Manya Johnson told her husband he wouldn’t get custody of their son, he testified. That’s when Johnson went to retrieve the gun.
“Were you able to persuade her not to leave with Oliver?” Iversen asked.
“No,” he said.
“What did you decide to do?”
“I decided to stop her from leaving,” he said. Johnson testified that he stood in the bathroom doorway and shot his wife as she walked past him.
“My son was crying in the bedroom,” Johnson said. “He had heard the shot.”