First-degree murder filed on man who shot wife in front of kids

Nov 25, 2015 By Christina George, Staff Writer

The man charged with killing his wife in front of the couple's eight childrenSaturdayon the Wind River Indian Reservation was upset over an argument about painkillers, federal investigators said.

Koby Dean Johnson, 51, made his initial court appearanceTuesdaybefore Magistrate Judge Teresa McKee.

He is charged with willfully, deliberately, maliciously and with premeditation murdering his wife, Rachel Noel Sapohoors, by shooting her with a firearm, according to charging documents filed with the U.S. District Court of Wyoming.

The victim also was known commonly as Noel Johnson, but she is identified officially as Sapohoors in the investigation.

A medical examiner at the McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colo., ruled Sapohoors's death a homicide.

According to court documents, the bullet was determined to have entered through her right cheek, and most of the bullet was stuck in the hair on the back of her head.

Also, Sapohoors's left hand bore lacerations that could be considered defensive wounds, and she had both fresh and old bruising on her head and body.

Sapohoors, 36, was a nursing student at Central Wyoming College, where she also was known familiarly as Noel Johnson.

According to a statement from the college, Koby Johnson surrendered voluntarilay to authorities onSunday.

Johnson remains in custody pending a detention and arraignment hearing scheduled for3 p.m. Dec. 1in Casper.

He is charged with first-degree murder, which is punishable in federal court by up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Shots fired

In an affidavit, FBI special agent Christine Coble said she learned at3:49 p.m.Saturdayof a shooting in unit 721 at Shipton Housing on the reservation.

"Preliminary information indicated a husband had shot and killed his wife in the presence of their eight children," Coble said. "Some (unknown number) of the children had broken into the parents' bedroom upon hearing a disturbance, and witnessed Johnson bring a gun to Sapohoors's head."

The children - ranging in age from 4 months to 13 years - escaped the residence safely to a neighbor's house. Their father fled the scene in a black 2002 Chevy Blazer, Coble said.

Johnson is identified in court documents as an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, but his wife and children are not enrolled tribal members.

The scene

Coble said she found Sapohoors's body on the floor of the far, back bedroom in the residence. She had significant injuries and swelling to her head and face. She was also surrounded by a voluminous amount of blood on the floor.

Coble went on to describe apparent transfer blood swipes on the walls in the dining area and foyer, and a purple and black Ruger SR22 discovered on top of the microwave in the kitchen.

"The Ruger SR22 had ... fluid on it that appeared to be blood," Coble said. "In the bedroom where Sapohoors was located, a plastic drawer was observed opened with an unzipped empty Ruger gun pouch inside."

Witnessed by children

Six of the couple's eight children were interviewedSundayby an FBI specialist.

"The three oldest children personally observed their father shoot their mother, while pinning her down on the floor of their bedroom," Coble said. "The other children heard the gunshots and screaming, and some observed their mother while/after she died."

The children reported their father concealed one hand inside the body of his coat as he entered the house, Coble stated.

"He looked angry when he arrived, ordered the kids to get out of his way, and went directly back to Sapohoors's bedroom, where she was caring for their four-month-old-baby," she added. "The children reported that their father slammed and locked the bedroom door, hitting one of the older boys in the head with the door as he did so. Their father then began yelling at their mother, screaming expletives, and accusing her of stealing something of his."

Attempts to help

Coble, in her affidavit, said Sapohoors called for her children to help, but they were unable to due to the bedroom door being locked.

"As the first gunshot was fired, the oldest children broke through and unlocked the bedroom. Upon entering the bedroom, they observed their father raise the weapon while their mother continued to scream," Coble stated. "Their father fired a second shot, which hit their mother in the side of the face."

The children believed the first shot missed their mother since she continued to scream between the two shots.

"When they breached the door and saw her she was not yet covered in blood," Coble continued. "The blood came after the second shot."

Johnson told the children to get out of the way and to keep the younger children out of the bedroom, before shoving past them and exiting the house with "an angry/sad expression on his face," Coble wrote.

"The older children attempted to render First Aid by checking their mother's pulse and applying pressure to the wound on her face," Coble added.

The gun

The children recounted noticing the Ruger near their mother's hand on the floor, and indicated their mother possessed a black and purple pistol she typically kept locked in a pouch labeled "Ruger" in the drawer in her bedroom.

"The gun was loaded, but there was no round in the chamber. When the children called 911 the dispatch operator instructed them to put the gun somewhere safe from the younger children," Coble said. "The child placed it on top of the microwave."

The children said their father used a gun that was "big and silver," and one of the older children was familiar with the sound his mother's semi-automatic handgun made when fired.

"This child was able to differentiate the sound of the gunshots he heard from the bedroom during this incident as being different from his mother's firearm and as having come from a revolver," Coble continued. "For that reason, the child believed the first shot the children heard had also been fired from his father's gun, even though the children did not witness the first shot."

Possible motives

The children told the FBI interviewer they thought the reason for the attack had to do with a history of fights between their parents over pills, specifically their father stealing them from their mother.

Some of the children also thought their father may have started drinking recently after years of sobriety. One child said their father believed the mother was cheating on him.

Several of the children knew of a pattern of violence by their father against their mother, Coble said.

"One child identified 'tick marks' made by their mother near her bedroom door to track each time the father 'hurt her,'" Coble said, adding agents observed the marks during a search.

The children told the FBI their parents recently separated, and their father had moved to his mother's house on Trout Creek Road in Fort Washakie.

The close proximity allowed for him to come to the house and care for the children while their mother attended nursing school.

"Additionally, he would sometimes come over just to visit," Coble said. "It is for these reasons that the children did not hesitate to allow entry when their father arrived ."

Nearing divorce

According to a witness who said Sapohoors was a close friend, the couple had been married for about 10 years.

"Their relationship was peppered with turmoil, and Johnson kicked Sapohoors out of the house earlier that year, resulting in Sapohoors and the children staying with a friend," the witness told the FBI.

"Sapohoors would complain that Johnson stole her pain pills and Fibromyalgia medication and that her intention was to divorce him."

According to Coble's affidavit, the witness said the fight between the couple may have been over Sapohoors's relationships with other men. The witness added Sapohoors had, in the past, seen a handgun in Johnson's vehicle's glove compartment.

"When asked about past violence, (the witness) advised Johnson would choke Sapohoors and say that he would kill her," Coble said.

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