A mentally ill Fresno man was sentenced Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court to 31 years to life behind bars for killing his drinking buddy five years ago.
In announcing the the punishment, Judge Timothy Kams cited Paul Allen Johnson’s long history of mental illness and said he will recommend to prison officials that Johnson be housed in a state hospital.
Untreated mental illness is a horrible existence.
Defense attorney Jane Boulger
Defense attorney Jane Boulger said a state hospital is the appropriate place for Johnson because staff has the authority to medicate Johnson, even if he doesn’t want to take his medicine. Those same rules don’t apply to inmates in prison, she said.
“Untreated mental illness is a horrible existence,” Boulger told the judge.
In March, a jury convicted Johnson, 50, of second-degree murder in the killing Arthur McKown, 53, in January 2012.
Police say Johnson and McKown knew each other, but Johnson has never said why he killed him.
During the trial, prosecutor Gabriel Brickey said on the night of Jan. 24, 2012, Johnson and McKown walked together through their east-central Fresno neighborhood, as was their habit, and stopped at several liquor stores along the way. The next morning, McKown was found dead in an alley behind a nearby grocery store near Olive and Chestnut avenues. He suffered 39 stab wounds and 11 cutting wounds, including on his face and neck, Brickey told the jury.
The case took years to get to trial because, court records show, Johnson's mental capacity to assist in his defense was called into question a few months after his arrest and again in 2013.
After the killing, Brickey said, Johnson used bleach in an attempt to cover up his crime. But detectives searching Johnson’s home found headphones and a plastic wrapper with McKown's blood on them, Brickey said. Surveillance video also captured the two of them walking together several times that night, and police found Johnson at the scene of the crime with several knives, Brickey said.
Johnson did not testify in his trial. But Boulger argued that no one saw Johnson kill McKown; there were no witnesses or surveillance footage of the crime. She also said Johnson has knives because he sells them at swap meets and yard sales to make extra money.
The case took years to get to trial because, court records show, Johnson's mental capacity to assist in his defense was called into question a few months after his arrest and again in 2013. Because doctors found him mentally incompetent to stand trial, Johnson was transferred to Atascadero State Hospital in April 2013, court records say. Once Johnson's mental capabilities were restored with medication, he returned the the Fresno County jail later that year.
By law, Johnson will be eligible for parole once he reaches age 60 and serves 25 years behind bars.