Crime

Reason for Squaw Valley killing? ‘He didn’t have to taunt me,’ witness testifies

Roger Johnson, 62, of Squaw Valley has been arrested with a charge of murder in connection with the disappearance of Gary Smith, 46, in July 2018, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office says. Smith was last known to be living in a trailer on Johnson’s foothill property.
Roger Johnson, 62, of Squaw Valley has been arrested with a charge of murder in connection with the disappearance of Gary Smith, 46, in July 2018, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office says. Smith was last known to be living in a trailer on Johnson’s foothill property. Fresno County Sheriff's Office

Roger Kenneth Johnson of Squaw Valley fatally shot a man in the head because he didn’t like being taunted, a witness testified on Tuesday in a Fresno County courtroom.

Johnson, 62, is accused of murdering Gary Smith, 46, after the two got into an argument on July 4, 2018. Smith lived on Johnson’s foothill property on Ruth Hill Road along with several others in a cluster of mobile homes and trailers.

The witness, William “Billy” Silks, who also lived on the property, said a friend, Sarah Lee Clements, ran over to his trailer to tell him Johnson had shot and killed Smith.

Silks rushed over to Johnson’s mobile home where he found Smith’s body, cold, lifeless and laying near the back door. Smith had a bullet hole in his forehead, Silks said.

He asked Johnson what happened, Silks testified that Johnson told him: “He didn’t have to taunt me.”

Silks lived on the property for two years and helped maintain a marijuana garden. He’s charged with being an accessory to murder and mutilation. He recently pleaded no contest and awaits sentencing. He testified Tuesday in Johnson’s preliminary hearing as part of a plea deal with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.

Judge David Gottlieb ruled Tuesday that there was ample evidence for Johnson to stand trial for murder. Representing the defendant is Jeremy Snell and prosecuting Johnson is Nathan Lambert.

Witnesses testified that Johnson and Smith had a rocky relationship and would sometimes argue. On July 4, 2018, Johnson was angry because Smith had been banging on the back door of his mobile home. Also living in the mobile home was Sam Wood and Clements.

Wood testified that he saw Johnson fire a warning shot down the hallway to try and scare Smith away. It didn’t work; Smith kept banging on it, Wood said.

“He then walked down the hallway to the back door and Roger fired through the door and it hit Gary,” Wood said.

No one wanted to call the sheriff, so they came up with a plan to hide the body, Silks said. Later that day Wood and Silks moved the body from the back porch to the side of the house and covered it with a tarp. They eventually loaded it into Johnson’s truck and buried it nearby. Silks admitted Tuesday that he cut the body in half to make it easier to move.

Law enforcement did not begin investigating until Smith was reported missing on July 19, 2018.

Soon after Smith’s disappearance, rumors began circulating in the community that he may have been killed and detectives visited Johnson’s Ruth Hill Road property on Sept. 14 seeking evidence.

A friend of the victim, Karen Jones, testified Tuesday that she knew something horrible had happened to Smith. She said she asked Johnson about it and he denied knowing anything.

Determined to find out where Smith was, she said she confronted Silks in January and he told her what happened and where he buried the body.

She and a few others took shovels into a remote area and began digging. It didn’t take long before they found human bones.

“I told them don’t touch anything,” she said Tuesday as she began to cry. “Gary, I’m so sorry about what they did to you.”

She left and called 911. Detectives later uncovered the body and confirmed it was Smith.

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A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.
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