(Clayton, MO) — Twenty-five years after Nixa woman Jackie Johns was found raped and murdered, an Ozarks man is found guilty in those crimes.
A jury in St. Louis County found Gerald Carnahan guilty of First Degree Murder and Forcible Rape. Those charges came with not just one, but two, lifetime jail sentences with no parole.
The jury spent 14 hours deliberating Gerald Carnahan’s fate. After 25 years, you may not think that’s a long time to wait.
But when that guilty verdict was read, together the Johns family said “yes!” and cried tears of joy; Gerald Carnahan teared up, knowing he’ll spend the rest of his life behind bars.
It was a tale of two families — the Johns and Carnahans — waiting and wondering for 25 years.
“I didn’t think it would ever come,” says Janis Johns-Walker, Jackie’s eldest sister. “I thought he’d get out of it because he’s always gotten out of it.”
Janis says the gruesome death destroyed her family, knowing a daughter and sister was taken away too soon.
“Jackie was always the lively one — the one that would keep everything going” she said. “Mom, she just literally grieved herself to death.”
But Thursday at 3:10 p.m. — three years after Gerald Carnahan was charged with raping and murdering Jackie Johns — he’s once again wearing handcuffs.
“We were afraid it wasn’t going to come out that way but it finally did,” says Janis. “They got him and now he won’t kill anybody else.”
Jurors spent two days weighing the evidence, leaving families wondering what was the hold up.
“I just kept trying to tell myself and the family it’s a 25-year-old case and you have a lot of witnesses,” said Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore.
“I was concerned we were going to have a hung jury just because of the evidence,” says Deborah McLaughlin. “I didn’t feel like we had a motive.”
McLaughlin served as the jury’s foreman. She says initially, the jurors were split right down the middle, six to six.
“The DNA was the lynchpin,” she said.
The DNA evidence taken from Jackie’s body during her autopsy. The defense questioned how well it had been preserved over 25 years.
“You take one of these diet sugars. It’s one gram,” said defense attorney Dee Wampler. “You take it and divide it into one billion pieces and it wasn’t even one-billionth a piece.”
“I am confident justice was done,” said McLaughlin.
Her sisters agree, knowing Jackie and their mother were looking down on the courthouse and smiling.
“I’m so glad that he’s off the streets and know nobody else will ever have to go through what jackie went through,” said Janis. “Jackie was a beautiful person. She had a lot ahead of her. We’re just glad it’s over.”
Gerald Carnahan’s wife sobbed for a half-hour after hearing the verdict. KOLR/KSFX asked Carnahan’s father for a comment. He shook his head and said, “what can you say?”
Formal sentencing for Carnahan takes place October 25. The defense has ten days to get plans in place to appeal, which it plans to do.
Jackie Johns’ sisters say it doesn’t matter. They recalled their mother Shirley’s words on her deathbed in 1988: “we’ll never know, we’ll never know.” The Johns family says today, we know.
For review, here are each of Emily Baucum’s reports from the courtroom this week:
(Clayton, MO) — A St. Louis County jury has found Gerald Carnahan guilty of First Degree Murder and Rape in the 1985 murder of Jackie Johns.
Johns’ family shouted “yes” following the reading of the verdict.
“We did it! We did it!” yelled Jackie’s three sisters. Joyce Johns says it was a great feeling watching guards cuff Carnahan and take him away.
After 13 hours of deliberations stretched out over Wednesday and Thursday, jurors came to their verdict at 3:10 p.m.
Members of both Carnahan’s and Johns’ families could be seen sobbing even before the verdict was read.
“What can you say?” asked Carnahan’s father. Carnahan was seen tearing up. He asked to speak to his father in private before sentencing.
“He won’t kill anyone else again,” says Johns’ sister Janis Johns-Walker.
Jeanne Johns, Jackie’s eldest sister, says it feels like years have been taken off her life. She says Jackie and her mom are “looking down on them and doing the happy dance.”
Jackie’s mother Shirley passed away in 1988. Janis Johns tells KOLR/KSFX that on her deathbed, Shirley said “we’ll never know.”
“Now we know,” says Janis.
Following the reading of the verdict, court was recessed for 20 minutes until the second phase of sentencing.
Carnahan will face life in prison without parole for First Degree Murder, and life in prison for Forcible Rape. Sentencing has been set for October 25.
In the courtroom with handcuffs for the first time, Carnahan did not testify on his behalf in second phase of sentencing.
Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore listed Carnahan’s criminal record at that time: burglary, stealing, arson, attempted kidnapping, assault of law enforcement, and unlawful use of weapon. That was the first time it has been revealed to jurors.
Moore then called Janis John-Walker to the stand.
“It pretty much destroyed our family,” she says. “We’re so relieved — so glad he’s off the streets, and no one else has to go through what Jackie did. She had a lot ahead of her. We’re just glad it’s over.”
Prosecutors laid out a gruesome scenario of the death of Jackie Johns in closing arguments in her accused killer’s trial.
Carnahan was charged for the 1985 murder of Jackie Johns of Nixa. Johns was 20 years old when she vanished after leaving work one night in June of that year. Four days later, her body was found floating in Lake Springfield.
Carnahan, long a suspect in the case, wasn’t charged until 2007, when DNA tests connected him to evidence found on the woman’s body.
Defense attorneys called into question the quality of the DNA samples, after being stored in several locations, unrefrigerated, for 25 years. They also questioned the memory of witnesses after so much time had passed.