On the night of Jan. 24, 2012, Paul Johnson and Arthur McKown walked together through their east-central Fresno neighborhood, as was their habit, and they stopped at several liquor stores along the way.
The next morning, McKown was found dead in an alley behind a nearby grocery store – stabbed 39 times the night before. And the Fresno County District Attorney’s office believes Johnson, who was arrested in the area the following day with a box full of knives, was responsible. But Johnson’s lawyer said police tested more than a dozen of her client’s knives without finding the murder weapon, and she contends that someone else stabbed McKown during the several hours the two were unaccounted for.
After more than five years of court proceedings, the murder trial against Johnson began Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court. Judge Timothy A. Kams gave the jury of nine men and three women their instructions, and the two sides began the arguments.
The District Attorney’s Office was represented by Gabriel Brickey, who focused his opening statement on the forensic evidence against Johnson.
“When Arthur Joseph McKown stood in line next to Paul Johnson on the night of Jan. 24, he had no way of knowing he’d be dead in a few hours,” Brickey said. “He didn’t know the defendant would stab him 39 times and leave him in the alley behind the Fresno Community Market.”
Brickey said Johnson used bleach in an attempt to cover up his crime, but detectives searching his home found headphones and a plastic wrapper with McKown’s blood on them. Surveillance video captured the two of them walking together several times that night, and police found Johnson at the scene of the crime with several knives.
But Jane Boulger, Johnson’s attorney, asked the jury to instead consider the evidence Brickey did not present. There were no witnesses or surveillance footage of the actual crime, she said, and no one in the area said they heard anything until the body was discovered. Johnson sells knives at swap meets and yard sales to make extra money, and not one of the more than a dozen of his knives tested by police was linked to the crime, she said..
She also noted that McKown, a homeless man, had a blood-alcohol content several times the legal limit when he died.
Addressing the blood evidence, Boulger said there was no way to date the samples, so it could have come from McKown at a different time.
Johnson and McKown often hung out in that area, Boulger said, but no testimony or footage shows any sort of argument or struggle between the two men. And as for the bleach?
“Everyone has bleach in their laundry room,” Boulger said. Johnson’s mother had used bleach to disinfect a cut on his hand the morning before McKown was killed, she added, which is why he smelled like bleach when police arrested him.
The trial is expected to last up to several weeks.