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Killer: Shooting teens was like spilling milk

The unemployed Army veteran who shot and killed three teenage swimmers in Wisconsin last summer is so indifferent to his killing spree that he compares it to spilling a glass of milk.
Image: Scott J. Johnson
Scott J. Johnson, 38, of Iron Mountain, Mich., after his arrest for the shooting deaths of three teenagers. Anonymous / Marinette County Jail via AP fil
/ Source: The Associated Press

The unemployed Army veteran who shot and killed three teenage swimmers last summer is so indifferent to his killing spree that he compares it to spilling a glass of milk.

"Do you get all upset about it? No, you just clean it up and get another glass of milk," Scott J. Johnson, 38, told The Associated Press recently by phone from the Marinette County Jail. "It might sound sick or sadistic to come off that way but that's pretty much it."

The killings on the Wisconsin-Michigan line were "very easy to do," he said, adding that he wouldn't mind if Wisconsin had the death penalty.

He was convicted of three counts of first-degree intentional homicide, six counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and one count of second-degree sexual assault. He pleaded no contest.

Shooter refuses to apologize
He sits in solitary confinement awaiting his mandatory life sentence on May 21. He doesn't expect the judge to give him a chance for parole.

Johnson won't apologize to the victims' families. "I don't care what they think," he said. "Anyway, considering the act I did, an apology would come off as pretty weak, you know?"

None of the victims' families responded to requests for reaction. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Johnson's comments only open old wounds.

"His comments serve only to re-victimize the survivors and the families of those whom he has confessed to killing," Van Hollen said.

Johnson freely admits to his criminal actions, which began with a sexual assault July 30, the day before the shootings. Johnson had coaxed a 24-year-old acquaintance to join him on a bike ride. He took her to a remote area by the Menominee River and assaulted her.

Unlike his indifference toward killing, Johnson said the sexual assault left him guilty: "I think what it is is, I betrayed her trust. I've been betrayed in the past and that hurts a lot."

Prosecutors said Johnson fired the next day on a group of youths at a popular swimming spot along the Menominee River, killing Tiffany Pohlson, 17; Anthony Spigarelli, 18; and Bryan Mort, 19, all of Michigan.

'I was ... full of hate'
Johnson was a man who generally kept to himself. He had joined the Army 10 days after graduating from high school in Kingsford, serving nearly 5 years in Shreveport, La. He got married and had two kids, but the marriage ended in 2001.

His ex-wife, Theresa Johnson, described him as "controlling, a "neat freak" and a "loner with few friends," according to a report by a psychologist who interviewed Johnson in 2008.

He once threatened his ex-wife with a gun. "He said 'I could of killed her. ... She was scared, I was scared,'" psychologist Deborah Collins wrote in the report released Tuesday by the Department of Justice.

He said he turned to alcohol and marijuana. Eventually he quit his job to spite his ex-wife by taking away child-support payments. That and writing bad checks led to a number of arrest warrants.

He couldn't apply for a job without an employer discovering his warrants. So he "leeched" off his mother.

The day after the sexual assault, his mother told him police were looking for him. If job prospects were bleak before the sexual assault, he thought, being labeled a sex offender would make employment impossible.

"I started weighing stuff and said 'I'm screwed,'" he said. "I was really bitter, full of hate."

So instead of turning himself in, he began to hatch a bloody plan.

Killing teens as 'bait'
Johnson often visited the Menominee River railroad bridge, a hangout for local teens. His hazy plan on July 31 was to kill the teens as "bait" to attract police, then take out officers one by one.

"I was either going to be shot and killed by police or be in prison for the rest of my life," he said.

With about eight teens swimming below, he dressed in camouflage and loaded his rifle.

Johnson fired about 17 shots in all. He would have shot more but his rifle repeatedly jammed, so he fled.

As a manhunt ensued, Johnson crawled around, looking for officers to kill but never getting a clean look. He eluded police all night but his resolve eventually wavered. He saw suicide as "a coward's way out" so he dismantled his weapon and surrendered.

'I'm lashing back'
Johnson said his initial plea of not guilty by reason of insanity was forced on him by his lawyer. He dumped the lawyer and pleaded no contest.

He has never been mentally ill, he said. Instead he just "snapped," driven to kill in part by the trauma of being separated from his kids.

When reminded that many men lose custody of their kids but don't go on killing sprees, Johnson still didn't apologize.

"That's true, that's their choice," he said. "I guess I'm lashing back. I'm taking a punch at the system."

Eight months after the shootings, Johnson reads mystery books and does puzzles. Wisconsin has no death penalty but if it did, Johnson said he "would go quietly."

He still replays the shootings in his mind — but never feels a pang of remorse.

"It was very easy to kill," he said matter-of-factly. "Very easy."