The trial of Timmy Lansing Johnson Jr. on Grant County charges of first-degree intentional homicide, armed robbery with use of force and kidnapping will stay in Grant County.
Grant County Circuit Judge Robert VanDeHey denied a motion to move Johnson’s trial Monday after a motion by Johnson’s attorney, public defender Rose Oliveto, that claimed prejudicial publicity would make finding impartial jurors too difficult.
Johnson, 26, Dubuque, pleaded not guilty by mental disease or defect to the three Grant County charges Aug. 28.
Johnson’s trial is scheduled for Jan. 12. A status conference is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 p.m.
Johnson also faces six La Crosse County felony charges — three counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety and one count each of taking and driving a vehicle without consent, felony bail jumping, and vehicle operator fleeing or eluding an officer. All the charges have repeater enhancers, as do the Grant County robbery and kidnapping charges. The trial on those charges is scheduled for March 12–13, with jury selection March 9.
The charges are connected to the death of Merle C. Forbes, 79, Platteville, after Forbes’ taxi was stolen outside Platteville June 12. Forbes was found in the trunk of his car after it crashed into a vehicle near Holmen early June 13 at the end of a police chase that started in La Crosse. Forbes was pronounced dead at the scene.
Oliveto’s motion included stories from The Platteville Journal and other area newspapers since mid-June, reporting on Forbes’ death and charges against Johnson, as well as stories about Johnson’s previous convictions. Oliveto also presented a Journal Etc. column from June 18 asking why Johnson “was out of jail in the first place.”
Johnson will already serve at least 10 years in prison and 7½ years extended supervision after his probation was revoked Aug. 21 on three sets of Grant County charges from earlier this year — driving a vehicle without consent and misdemeanor bail jumping, dating back to Jan. 2; bribery of a public official, taking and driving a vehicle without owner consent, resisting or obstructing an officer, and disorderly conduct, dating back to March 20; and felony bail jumping, resisting or obstructing an officer, and two counts of misdemeanor bail jumping, dating back to April 28.
The first-degree intentional homicide charge includes a mandatory life sentence, though the judge can set the date of first parole eligibility. The kidnapping and robbery charges carry maximum sentences of 92 years in prison and $200,000 in fines. The La Crosse County charges carry maximum sentences of 83 years in prison and $105,000 in fines if convicted.
Johnson still faces eight Lafayette County charges of felony bail jumping, as well as charges of taking and driving a vehicle without consent, and driving or operating a vehicle without consent for two alleged car theft cases in Darlington Aug. 29 and Feb. 24. A body-only bench warrant was issued in Lafayette County Circuit Court in Darlington after Johnson failed to appear for his status conference June 18, when he was in the La Crosse County jail.
Johnson faces a maximum 63½ years in prison and $110,000 in fines on those charges.
The Grant County charges earlier this year were for stealing a vehicle Jan. 2, taking a van from Dickeyville and driving it to Platteville March 20 and, after his arrest, allegedly trying to bribe a Grant County sheriff’s deputy. The April charge was for a disturbance in the Grant County jail.
Johnson was released from the jail June 12 around 6 a.m. According to the criminal complaint, after visiting Walmart and Menards in Platteville, Johnson stole a bottle of Southern Comfort from a liquor store, then “ran into a person who gave him some PCP.”
The criminal complaint said Johnson called for a cab near UW–Platteville “looking for a destination to kill himself” because no one would let Johnson stay with them, and he couldn’t go back to his mother’s house in Dubuque because she didn’t want him there and because he had outstanding warrants in Dubuque. Johnson said he stole a small paring knife from Piggly Wiggly.
Forbes had left his home June 12 around 5 p.m. to pick up a fare at UW–Platteville’s Rountree Commons. The criminal complaint said Johnson could tell Forbes was “becoming irritated with him” because he didn’t give Forbes an exact destination.
After Forbes started to make a U-turn on a dead-end road, the criminal complaint said, Johnson grabbed Forbes, pulling him from the front seat to the back seat, and “got forcefully rough with him.” After Johnson got into the front seat to drive, Forbes started kicking the back of the seat.
According to the criminal complaint, after Johnson asked Forbes how to open the trunk, Johnson “became frightened and upset becoming delusional and thinking [Forbes] was going to hurt him.” Johnson stabbed Forbes “multiple times” in the chest and head, according to the criminal complaint.
Johnson claimed he was going to take Forbes to a hospital, but because of bleeding he put Forbes into the trunk. Johnson drove to Boscobel and then north on U.S. 61.
On June 13 around 1:10 a.m., a La Crosse police officer saw Forbes’ taxi and began following it based on the missing person report. According to the criminal complaint, the taxi stopped facing traffic on a one-way street, then started heading against traffic on the one-way street. Speeds reached 115 mph before the taxi crashed into a SUV and rolled over several times.
Johnson told a La Crosse police officer he was intending to kill himself by crashing into “a large building of some sort,” but forgot about Forbes in the trunk.
Johnson was charged with fraud on a taxicab operator after Forbes picked up Johnson in Darlington and took him to Boscobel Aug. 24, 2013. According to court records, Johnson went into an apartment saying he was going to get fare money, but didn’t return after 20 minutes.