MARINETTE, Wis. — A Michigan man accused in a shooting rampage that killed three teenage swimmers at a river on the Wisconsin-Michigan border pleaded insanity to 10 felonies Friday, including new counts that he tried to kill six other teens.
Scott J. Johnson, 38, of Kingsford, Mich., had been charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. The criminal complaint was amended Thursday to also charge him with six counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and one count of second-degree sexual assault.
Prosecutors say Johnson went to the Menominee River on July 31 and opened fire on a group of swimmers, killing Tiffany Pohlson, 17, Anthony Spigarelli, 18, and Bryan Mort, 19, all from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The attempted homicide counts relate to six other teens who were also at the river; one of them suffered a superficial shrapnel wound in his back.
Police say Johnson confessed that he sexually assaulted a woman a day before the shootings.
According to the original criminal complaint, Johnson said he decided he had "nothing to lose" when he learned after the sexual assault that police were looking for him. Authorities say he said he had planned to kill law-enforcement officers who came to the scene of the shootings, but instead turned himself in the next morning.
With the insanity pleas, Johnson would have to prove to a jury through medical experts that he didn't know right from wrong in the crimes because he suffered a mental disease or defect and cannot be held responsible for his behavior.
"In this serious of a case, you can't leave any stone unturned," Leonard Kachinsky, Johnson's attorney, said about the rare insanity pleas. "We want to get a psychiatric exam to see if there was a basis for that defense."
If found insane, he would be sent to a mental hospital until doctors determined he was safe to re-enter society. If found sane and guilty of the charges, he would be sent to prison for life.
Kachinsky said Johnson does not have an "extensive record" of hospitalization for psychiatric illnesses. But he said his client has a behavior pattern of isolation back in the family home after his divorce that suggests he might have undiagnosed depression.
District Attorney Brent DeBord did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
Stashed weapons in the woods
Judge Tim Duket ordered attorneys in the case to make recommendations to him on mental health doctors who they want to examine Johnson. The judge set a hearing on that matter Sept. 10.
A four-week trial is scheduled to begin March 16. With Johnson's insanity pleas, there would be two phases. The first would determine whether he was guilty of the crimes. If found guilty, the trial would then move to a second phase, the insanity evidence.
The original criminal complaint characterizes Johnson as a disaffected man who had thought about committing a random shooting for four or five years. Johnson told investigators he stashed weapons in the woods at least a year ago in preparation.
Johnson's mother, Judy Johnson, has said her son was honorably discharged from the Army in 1994 and has been unemployed. She described him as despondent since his wife left him in 2001 and took their two children with her.
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