Mixed bag of witnesses testify for Sarah’s defense — (Court T.V.)

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Court T.V.

By Patti Murphy

Times-News correspondent

BOISE, Idaho — Monday’s testimony in the Sarah Johnson murder trial was from a mixed bag of witnesses who spoke on such things as Sarah’s sleeping medication, unknown DNA samples, a childhood friend who threatened Sarah with a gun, and loud cars driving through the neighborhood the morning Alan and Diane Johnson were shot to death.

Sarah, now 18, is accused of shooting her mother, Diane, in the head while she slept and then turning the rifle on her father, Alan, killing him as he came out of the shower. She was 16 years old at the time of the Sept. 2, 2003, murders. Prosecutors say she killed her parents because they disapproved of her relationship with a 19-year-old man.

Two neighbors who lived near the Johnsons testified to hearing an unusually loud car driving through the streets the morning of the murders.

Amber Annen, who lives across the highway from the street on which the Johnsons’ lived and whose mother had worked with Diane Johnson, said she was scared by the strange vehicle.

“It’s a quiet street, and I could hear it idling,” she said, describing how the car sat parked between her and her neighbor’s driveway for about 10 minutes before taking off. She said the car, which had a “fast and furious engine,” drove through the neighborhood in a loop and then came back and sat idle near her house. She said it continued this pattern four or five times.

“I was scared lying in bed,” she said, noting she first heard the car at about 5:15 that morning, and the last time was between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m. “I heard it taking off to the left (toward Glen Aspen Drive),” she said, referring to the street on which the Johnsons had lived. Witnesses have testified that they heard gunshots coming from the Johnson house at about 6:20 a.m.

Under cross-examination by Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Whatcott, Annen said she had not reported the information about the car to police until October 2004.

“You learned a co-worker of your mother’s was shot dead, but you didn’t contact police for over a year?” Whatcott asked.

Another neighbor, Ashley Kelbert, testified that she heard a loud car drive down her street right before sunrise the morning of the shootings.

“It was loud, it had a high RPM,” she said. “It’s a dead-end street and we normally didn’t hear cars go by fast.”

Kelbert, who lived above the canal behind the Johnsons, told jurors that she saw the back end of the car but could not identify it. “It wasn’t an SUV,” she said.

In a move to explain why Sarah may have seemed callous and wishy-washy following the murders of her parents, the defense called a psychiatrist to testify about the effects of some of the medication that Sarah had been taking.

Dr. Leslie Lundt, who specializes in psychopharmacology, said Sarah was taking Zoloft for depression and Ambien to help her sleep. Neither of these drugs has been approved for use in adolescents, making it more difficult to predict how they would affect a 16-year-old, she said.

Witnesses have testified that Sarah seemed most concerned with having her fingernails done and going to a volleyball game after her parents were murdered.

Lundt said that Sarah’s desire to be with friends was not particularly inappropriate.

“Many teenagers deal with stress by not dealing with it and repressing it,” she said. Being drawn to her friends, she noted, was really an adolescent reaction to a traumatic event.

Much of her testimony about Ambien revolved around the memory disturbances that can be created by the powerful sleeping aid.

“After taking Ambien, some people can completely forget what they do,” Lundt said.

“I tell my patients to brush their teeth and put their jammys on first and then take the Ambien and go to bed,” she said. “Often people forget what they’ve done during the 15 minutes after taking the pill.”

Whatcott asked if Sarah had ever indicated she took Ambien before the murders, and Lundt said no.

The defense is expected to rest today.