SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Marlene Johnson was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Shirley Pierce in Rowan County Wednesday. Despite proclaiming her innocence, Johnson was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
"I disagree with the decision. I am innocent. I was never there. I would not hurt anybody. I would not have killed Shirley Pierce," Johnson said following the announcement of the verdict.
Judge Stuart Albright responded to Johnson saying "The DNA squarely contradicts everything that you just said," and then after giving Johnson a sentence of life without parole, said "Mam, you will die in prison, that is my order."
Shirley Pierce's fiance found Pierce stabbed to death inside her Kannapolis home in July of 2013. Johnson reportedly killed Pierce in the mistaken belief that Pierce was having an affair with Johnson's estranged husband.
Pierce worked with Ervin Johnson at Tuscarora Yarns in Mount Pleasant.
"We know who did this. We know why she did this. We know how she did this," Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook said in her closing argument on Tuesday.
Johnson stabbed 62-year-old Pierce in the neck in what has been described as a violent, painful death in the attack in her home. During prosecution testimony, forensic pathologist Dr. Clay Nichols told the 9-woman, 3-man jury that Pierce would have been in pain for about three to five minutes before finally losing consciousness.
The jury got the case on Tuesday afternoon and deliberated for 45 minutes before heading home. Deliberations resumed Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m.
Johnson, who turned 66 on Tuesday, will spend the rest of her life in prison.
"We appreciate the jurors' time and attention as we presented evidence over the past couple of weeks," Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook said. "We are grateful for their service and thoughtful deliberation. We also appreciate the thorough investigation conducted by the Rowan County Sheriff's Office."
"We hope that this guilty verdict and resulting life sentence will provide some sense of closure for Shirley Pierce's family, friends, and loved ones," Cook said.
As the verdict was announced Johnson collapsed to the floor. Several deputies rushed to her side and attempted to remove her from the courtroom. The judge stopped them, telling them to make her stand up and listen as each juror was polled on the guilty verdict.
Prior to sentencing, several members of the family of Shirley Pierce spoke. Pierce's daughter, Tracy Brown, told Johnson that she could not forgive her for the murder.
"As a Christian I'm supposed to be forgiving," Brown said, "but I could never forgive you for what you did, and if that keeps me from going to Heaven, then I'll meet you in Hell."
Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten, whose investigators handled the case, said that the outcome should help the Pierce family.
"You're thankful that this will be another step for the family of the victim in closure for them and they can get on healing," Auten said. "Certainly they'll never get over losing a loved one like Shirley, but hopefully this is another step in that right direction for that family."
Johnson's legal team of James Davis and Jay White announced that they would appeal the conviction.