Death penalty sought against woman in brutal Kannapolis stabbing - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Death penalty sought against woman in brutal Kannapolis stabbing murder

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Marlene Johnson (Rowan Co. Jail) Marlene Johnson (Rowan Co. Jail)
SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) -

Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook will seek the death penalty against murder suspect Marlene Johnson, 61, for the brutal stabbing murder of Shirley Pierce at her Kannapolis home back in July. 

In addition, a judge ruled on Tuesday that Johnson would stay in jail and not be eligible for bond.

Johnson's attorney, James Davis, expressed disappointment with the judge's ruling.

"Obviously we're disappointed, but my comment is that we really believe in our system of justice, they're very fine people who are involved in our system, who strive hard to do the right thing," Davis told WBTV. 

"I think in the end when all the evidence comes out we believe she'll be found innocent and not guilty and we look forward to that."

In court, Davis was seeking bond for Johnson. 

In his argument before the judge, he said the state's case against "purely circumstantial," and that there were "no signs that connect Mrs. Johnson to the crime."

Davis said further that the state was involved in a "rush to judgment" in arresting Johnson. 

"There is so much information inconsistent with the theory of her guilt," Davis said.

In response, DA Cook presented much of what had been seen in search warrants.

The warrants show what detectives were looking for, and what they say they found in investigating this case that shocked the local community. 

In the warrants it is stated that Johnson actually approached police to tell her that she did not kill Pierce and that she had an alibi.

Pierce's body was found in the bathtub of her Kannapolis home by her fiance on July 23. 

Within hours deputies had arrested Johnson.  

According to court records filed prior to the murder, Johnson believed that Pierce had an affair with Johnson's husband, Ervin Johnson, an executive at the textile company where Pierce worked. 

Those records showed a history of trouble between the women dating back to 2007.

Those records also state that no evidence of an affair could be found. 

In court today Cook noted that two private investigators were unable to find any evidence of Johnson having an affair with Pierce.

Pierce had a restraining order taken out against Johnson that expired on June 13, just a few weeks before she was murdered, and in court on Tuesday Cook noted "extremely erratic behavior" from Johnson in the days before the murder.

That behavior included a new revelation that Johnson had managed to get inside an apartment her husband had taken in Mecklenburg County, break out a glass window, and replace it with plexiglass sealed with velcro. 

That allowed Johnson to get in and out of the apartment even after the locks had been changed.

Johnson was located and arrested on the same day of the murder. 

Investigators found her at the office of her attorney at the Davis Law Firm. 

Johnson was searched and detectives "observed numerous cuts and scratches on Marlene Johnson's hands, fingers, arms, and legs."

The warrant states that the wounds "appeared to be fresh and less than a day old and appeared consistent with injuries that would be sustained in a violent assault involving an edged weapon." 

At that point Johnson was arrested and charged with the murder of Shirley Pierce. 

In court on Tuesday Davis indicated that the cuts and scratches could have come from a dog.

The warrants, and evidence presented in court today, also provide the time line of the ongoing investigation.  

Pierce's body was found at 117 Evandale Road in Kannapolis on July 23. 

Pierce's fiance had come to the house and could not get Pierce to come to the door, nor could he hear any sound from inside. 

The garage door was up and the door was locked, according to the warrant. 

The fiance, Chuck Reeves, used a hidden key to get inside the house.

Once inside, Reeves found Pierce's body in the tub in the master bedroom bathroom. 

At that point Reeves "backed out and called 911 and waited until deputies arrived." 

Investigators noted that Pierce had been stabbed multiple times and that the blade of the knife had even been broken off and left in her neck. Lt. Chad Moose with the Rowan Sheriff's Office began coordinating the investigation. 

In the warrant it states that "Ms. Pierce had suffered multiple stab wounds and also appeared to have been beaten about the head and body." 

The floor of the bedroom contained "deep reddish brown stains that appeared to be blood," and there appeared to be "a cleaning agent similar to bleach" poured onto these stains. 

A purse was found dumped out on the bed, as well as a jewelry box that had been "dumped on the floor of the living room." 

Davis noted in court that while bleach was found in Johnson's car, Davis told the judge that there were many possible uses and explanations for Johnson to have the bleach.
A bloody footprint was found on a door mat that led to the garage. 

Other blood stains were found in the hallway and on the floor of the garage.

At this point it was discovered by investigators that Marlene Johnson was a "person that Shirley Pierce had problems with."  

Cook argued before the judge that Johnson should not have a bond because "she had previously violated a court order."

"She clearly poses a danger to the public and to the community," Cook said.

When Cook was finished, Davis rose and asked the judge if he could respond, but Judge Richard Stone said no. 

Stone then ruled that Johnson would not get a bond.

"There is strong and convincing evidence of the defendant's guilt," Stone said.  "She appears to be a threat to the community.  I hope she didn't do it but the evidence is strong that she did."

Johnson broke into tears as the decision was announced, sobbing loudly as deputies led her out the door and back to the jail.

Once the hearing was concluded she was taken back to the Rowan County Detention Center's Female housing unit.
 
Then shortly before 12 p.m., just after the female inmates were issued their mid-day meal, and a female Detention Officer had left the housing unit Johnson climbed onto the top of a two-tiered bunk and intentionally flung her body backward.
 
Johnson hit the floor below the bunk, with her neck & head striking the floor first, officials told WBTV.
 
The incident was captured on video tape, and no other inmates were near Johnson when she committed the act, which officials said was "to cause herself harm."
 
The video is still under review and is not being released at this time.
 
Detention Officers immediately responded to the female housing unit to render aid, while emergency services were contacted to transport Johnson to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.
 
After being evaluated at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, medical personnel decided to have Johnson transported to an undisclosed medical center for further treatment of her injuries.
 
The extent of her injuries has not been released, but officials say she will remain under constant guard by law enforcement personnel while being treated at any medical facility.

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