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Officer's Killer May Have Targeted Family Friend

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2004; Page B02

Walter O. Johnson may not have come to Washington to kill Metro Transit Police Officer Marlon F. Morales, but he did, prosecutors believe, come to the city three years ago to kill someone.

Fresh out of federal prison, where he had served time for bank robbery, Johnson most likely wanted revenge on a Northwest Washington woman who had turned him in back in 1989, prosecutors revealed in court papers this week.

Walter O. Johnson was sentenced for killing Marlon Morales, right a Metro police officer. (Metro Transit Police)

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Defense attorneys for Johnson, who have maintained that he was not even in Washington the night of the shooting, say the theory is baseless and point out that prosecutors offer no evidence of any plot.

Johnson, 36, is to be sentenced today in D.C. Superior Court, two months after a jury convicted him in the June 2001 slaying of Morales. Johnson was the first person convicted under a law that mandates life in prison for murder of a law enforcement officer.

Described by authorities as a recalcitrant and dangerous inmate, Johnson once beat up Mafia boss John Gotti in a fight at a prison in Marion, Ill., according to prison records. He was repeatedly transferred from one prison to another for disciplinary problems, and now he could end up back in one of the country's most secure lockups.

The court papers, submitted ahead of the sentencing, offer new information about what the government believes brought Johnson from Philadelphia to Northwest Washington and, in particular, to the U Street-Cardozo Metro station.

It was there, on June 10, 2001, that Johnson shot and mortally wounded Morales, 32, after the rookie officer stopped him in what seemed like a routine case of fare evasion.

In that deadly encounter, Morales may have unwittingly saved the life of Leona Williams, who had turned Johnson in 12 years earlier and who lived just a few blocks from the U Street station, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors believe that Johnson was out for revenge when he boarded a Greyhound bus from Philadelphia to Washington the day of the transit officer's shooting.

They traced events to the fall of 1989, soon after Johnson had absconded from a correctional facility and robbed a Philadelphia area bank of nearly $100,000. Prosecutors said Johnson came to Washington shortly after the heist and went to see Williams, a family friend, at her home.

But she was not there, and her son, wary of the stranger, offered only to let him leave his bag for safekeeping, prosecutors said. Authorities said about $88,000 was found in the bag -- along with a rifle that Johnson had stolen from his parents and used in the robbery.

When Johnson returned, pounding on her door in the early hours of the morning, Williams was puzzled and called his parents, she said yesterday in an interview. They told her about the bank robbery and urged her to call the police, Williams said.

She did, and Johnson was quickly taken into custody. As he left, Johnson turned to Williams, according to prosecutors' account.

"Aunt Leona, why did you do this?" he asked her.

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