Johnson had already confessed: He and Cleophus King -- his former lover
and accomplice -- fatally stabbed and strangled Assistant St. Louis County
Counselor Luke Meiners in the Forest Park - DeBaliviere neighborhood
back in 2008. They dumped Meiners' body across the river, stole
his Jeep and ran up his credit cards.
By Wednesday, Johnson had
struck a deal with prosecutors: He would escape the death penalty and
spend his life in prison without possibility for parole, provided he
testified in the capital case against his co-defendant King, age 45.
King wasn't present; his case is still pending. But Johnson's fate was
During the hearing, Judge Steven Ohmer invited the
accused to make a statement. Johnson, looking frail in orange prison
garb, declined. About a dozen of his family members sat in the benches
behind him, distraught but quiet.
Members of the victim's family
were present too, including Luke Meiners' sister, who'd come all the way
from Atlanta, Georgia. Some wiped their eyes and held each others'
hands. Yet none chose to give an impact statement.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Rachel Smith did rise to address the court.
With her boss, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, looking on, Smith felt
the need to put certain things on the record.
She described the
"torturous" and "extremely painful" way the murder was carried out. She
called Luke Meiners a "vibrant human being" who was killed for nothing
more than a mid-level robbery.
What she didn't say aloud, but
wrote in a pleading filed with the court that same day, was how this
case had affected her personally: Cleophus King was caught in jail
writing notes to Johnson, plotting to have her knocked off. And Ronald
Johnson hadn't even bothered to notify her.
The sentencing of 24-year-old Ronald Johnson on Wednesday afternoon was a foregone conclusion, but that didn't prevent tears among those gathered -- on either side of a St. Louis courtroom.