Fredericka J. Smith

Man Receives 55 years in Shooting Death of Ex-wife

March 12, 2009

ANDERSON — A 77-year-old Anderson man who pleaded guilty last month to killing his ex-wife has received what amounts to a life sentence, 55 years in prison.

Donald P. Johnson was sentenced in Madison Circuit Court Thursday morning before Judge Fredrick Spencer. On Feb. 18, Johnson pleaded guilty to murder in the shooting death of Fredericka J. Smith on May 21, 2008.  The charge carries 45 to 65 years in prison.

Madison County Deputy Prosecutor Pat Ragains argued aggravating circumstances, including Smith’s age (67) and the presence of two young children in the house at the time of the crime, and asked for the maximum. Defense attorney Angela Warner Sims, meanwhile, said Johnson’s lack of criminal history, his age and his guilty plea should be considered mitigating circumstances and asked for the minimum.

“Everyone knows the reality is that it doesn’t matter what the court decides,” Sims said. “Given Mr. Johnson’s age and health, any sentence is a life sentence.”

Sims said her client has not expressed a desire to appeal the sentence.

Johnson entered the courtroom at 10 a.m. in a green-and-white jumpsuit, the same type he wore for his plea hearing, although he looked less disheveled, his white hair and beard neatly trimmed. He clutched a brown paper bag containing personal effects and was seated in the jury box until the hearing began at 10:15 a.m.

After she and Johnson divorced, Smith had a long-term domestic relationship with James Walton, who asked to address the court.

“We were together two weeks past 21 years,” Walton said. “During those 21 years, not a day went by that she didn’t help someone.”

He said Smith offered Johnson a place to live, the house at 808 Nichol Ave. where the shooting took place, when he was near homelessness.

“When he committed this crime, when he shot and killed her, he did it for no reason,” Walton said. “I can’t understand why he did it. He was in no danger from her. She was the kindest, most considerate person I ever met. I ask that the court show him no lenience.”

Johnson, who is hard of hearing and admitted he could not understand Walton, offered an apology in which talked of an incident involving a bed more than 20 years ago and compared his situation to that of Gerald O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind.” People close to Smith referred to her by her middle name, Johanna, or just Hanna.

“As far as Hanna’s concerned, I’m real sorry,” Johnson said. “It’s like ‘Gone With the Wind’ when Mr. O’Hara lost his mind and went chasing a carpetbagger and he said he had to ask Mrs. O’Hara, who was a corpse at that time.”

Spencer previously denied a request by Johnson’s original defense attorney, Robert Cowles, for a psychological evaluation. Ragains said Johnson appeared “lucid” and mentally sound when questioned by investigators.

Ragains said Smith’s age and the violence of the crime were both aggravating circumstances under state statute. The presence of the children, ages 12 and 7 and already “mentally disturbed,” and the “heinous” nature of the crime were not statutory.

“This act is particularly heinous,” Ragains said. “There was no reason whatsoever for this woman to be shot. Despite the fact that this is an old man, the aggravating factors far outweigh the mitigating factors and the state would ask for the maximum sentence.”

Judge Spencer dealt the recommended sentence of 55 years. He said Johnson’s apology to the family was his first such gesture in the 10 months of court proceedings.

“I think the maximum is reserved for particularly ugly crimes permitted by particularly ugly people,” Spencer said. “You don’t have a bad record and I don’t believe you deserve the maximum sentence.

“I want you to go to a facility where you can get ongoing medical attention. You’ll still be inside a prison, you’ll still be inside the walls, but you don’t need to be in Michigan City or Westville or Wabash Valley.”

That decision will be at the discretion of the Indiana Department of Correction.


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