May 15, 1950 |
Joliet, Illinois, United States
|Other names||The Weekend murderer|
|Criminal penalty||Life with no possibility of parole|
|Imprisoned at||Menard Correctional Center|
Milton Johnson (born May 15, 1950) is an American serial killer who committed up to ten known murders in Will County, Illinois. An abundance of evidence linked him to the crimes, including the murder of two police officers.
The Murders of Officers Denis Foley and Stephen Mayer
On Saturday July 16, 1983, at approximately 3:25 a.m. at 143rd and State, Will County Auxiliary Sergeant Denis Foley and Auxiliary Deputy Stephen Mayer were mortally wounded in an ambush slaying.
The deputies had been shot in what they thought was going to be a routine stop to help a motorist. They stopped to assist the driver of a pickup truck. The rear of the truck was blocking part of the road, while its front bumper was up against a red car parked in a rutted turn-around area. As the officers approached, their assailant said, "We need a jump."
When the officers exited their vehicle, the gunman suddenly shot both of them. Mayer died shortly after being shot; Foley was seriously wounded in the throat. A few minutes later another car came around the curve and slowed down. The gunman opened up on them. The driver was killed; a female passenger was shot six times. The car rolled on down the road and into a bean field. Wounded and frightened, the female went looking for help.
The deputies were in trouble but they couldn't be found and other officers were frantically searching in the darkness of rural Homer Township. Between 3:25 a.m. and 3:40 a.m., county police officers searched for Foley and Mayer.
Sergeant Foley, badly injured from one bullet that had shattered his mouth and teeth, attempted to speak over the police radio microphone. Most of his words were garbled. He couldn't give his location. He was instructed to turn on his siren and shine his spotlight in the air. Meanwhile, a farmer who lived in the area called county police to say he could hear racket behind his buildings, including a siren. Officers met the citizen and less than a minute later, the site of the ambush was located.
After finding the two auxiliary deputies, responding units located the bodies of a 25-year-old female, and a 32-year-old male who had been in the car parked in front of the pickup truck.
The auxiliary officers' guns and wallets were missing. Mayer's body had been dragged across the gravel road and left in a ditch. In a reconstruction of the crime scene, it was determined that before he died, Mayer, as he leaned on 301A, had attempted to flag down the last car that was also ambushed. "Stop! Stop!" he had called out. As he was calling for help, the gunman had zigzagged between the front of the pickup truck and the squad car firing shots at the car. The female survivor saw a man in a uniform shirt shouting at them. She thought the officer was shooting at them.
The murder of Anthony Hackett
On July 16, 1983, Patricia Payne and her boyfriend, Anthony Hackett, drove from their hometown of Emden, Illinois, and spent the day at Six Flags Great America Amusement Park in Gurnee, Illinois. That day, Hackett bought a stuffed doll depicting the popular Tasmanian Devil character; he placed the receipt for the doll in his wallet. Around 10 p.m., Payne and Hackett left the park and, on the way home, they stopped Hackett's car along Interstate 55 in Will County to sleep. Hackett slept in the front seat; Payne slept in the back.
Around 1:30 a.m. on July 17, Payne awoke to tapping on the passenger-side window followed by gunshots which struck and killed Hackett. The assailant opened the passenger-side door and ordered Payne to give him Hackett's wallet and her purse. He then ordered Payne to crawl from the car and into a pickup truck parked nearby. The assailant climbed into the truck and drove down the interstate. While driving, the assailant sexually assaulted Payne; after exiting the interstate and stopping the truck, he raped her.
The assailant again started to drive, but pulled the truck onto the shoulder of the road 10 minutes later. The assailant then stabbed Payne in the chest and dumped her from the truck. Payne was found on the grassy median an hour later at 5:30 a.m. by a passing motorist. She had no pulse or blood pressure, and she was rushed to a Joliet hospital, where doctors performed emergency surgery. Payne survived.
Later that morning, Special Agent John Meduga of the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement (now known as the Illinois State Police) spoke with Payne. Payne indicated to Meduga that her assailant was an African American man with no observable facial hair. Eight days later, Payne looked through approximately 1,500 mugshots and selected 42 photographs of persons with facial characteristics similar to her assailant, 34 of whom had facial hair. The record does not reveal whether the defendant's photograph was chosen by Payne. More than a month later, Payne looked through 137 mugshots, including one of the defendant, and selected four photographs of persons with facial hair and facial characteristics similar to her assailant. Payne did not choose the defendant's photograph.
The police investigation of these crimes stalled until information that Ann Shoemaker telephoned the Will County sheriff's office in August 1983 was turned over to the State Police in February 1984. Shoemaker described an incident in which a dark pickup truck had played cat and mouse game with her while she was driving one night in July 1983. She and a friend followed the truck and recorded its license plate number. After seeing the driver was not someone they knew, tried to get away. On March 6, 1984, she gave this number to the police, who traced it to a truck owned by Sam Myers, Johnson's stepfather.
After Myers signed a consent form, the police searched the truck and found Caucasian head hairs similar to Payne's hair, bloodstains, a steak knife, reddish brown fibers, and a sales receipt for a Tasmanian Devil stuffed doll. Based on these items, the police obtained a search warrant for Myers' residence, where the defendant lived. The police seized three .357 Magnum cartridges from a dresser in Myers' bedroom.
Also on March 6, 1984, Payne looked at five mugshots. Johnson's photograph was the only one among the five which Payne had seen on September 6, 1983. After several minutes, Payne tentatively identified the defendant as her assailant. On March 9, Payne viewed a six-person lineup. After each person in the lineup repeated commands that the assailant had given Payne on the night of her ordeal, Payne unmistakably identified the defendant as her assailant.
Initially, the Will County public defender was appointed to represent the defendant. On June 1, 1984, the day before the scheduled trial date, William Swano entered his appearance as the defendant's retained attorney. The trial court granted Swano three continuances, totaling 55 days, and set the trial date for July 26, 1984.
The defendant moved for a change of venue, citing negative pretrial publicity in Will County, and the trial court transferred the case to Iroquois County. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of the first degree murder of Hackett, as well as the aggravated kidnapping, deviate sexual assault, rape, and attempted murder of Payne. The defendant waived his right to a sentencing jury, and the trial court found the defendant eligible for the death penalty.
The trial court further found no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude the death penalty and sentenced the defendant to death for Hackett's murder and to concurrent terms of 40 years' imprisonment for deviate sexual assault, rape, and attempted murder. On direct appeal, this court affirmed the defendant's convictions and sentences. See People v. Johnson, 114 Ill. 2d 170 (1986).
Johnson then filed a pro se post-conviction petition in the Will County circuit court, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal and in post-conviction proceedings. The trial court granted the state's motion to dismiss the petition. On appeal, they affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The court held that the trial court properly dismissed Johnson's claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, but that the trial court improperly dismissed Johnson's claim relating to his post-conviction attorney's performance. See People v. Johnson, 154 Ill. 2d 227 (1993).
Johnson is serving his sentence in Menard Correctional Center.