Man charged in killing CWC nursing student to claim self-defense

Mar 31, 2016 By Christina George, Staff Writer

The man accused of fatally shooting his wife in front of the couple's children on the Wind River Indian Reservation plans to claim self-defense and accidental shooting at trial, according to those prosecuting him.

Koby Dean Johnson is charged with the Nov. 21 first-degree murder of 36-year-old Rachael Noel Johnson, a nursing student at Central Wyoming College.

Kerry Jacobson, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Wyoming based in Lander, filed a motion to continue trial. In her request, she said Koby Johnson's possible defense would require more time for the FBI to analyze evidence.

U.S. District Court of Wyoming Judge Scott Skavdahl granted the motion and rescheduled trial for June 13 at 9 a.m. in Casper.

A grand jury charges that Koby Johnson willfully, deliberately, maliciously and with premeditation and malice aforethought, killed Rachael Noel Johnson by shooting her with a firearm.

Witnesses interviewed by FBI investigators said Koby Johnson may have killed his estranged wife over an argument about pain medication or over her having another relationship, according to court documents.

He pleaded not guilty to the murder charge in January.

Jacobson said the FBI's Virginia-based crime lab is backlogged, making it difficult to be prepared if trial were to start as previously scheduled for April 11.

Testing the evidence, she explained, is critical for Koby Johnson to prepare for his defense.

"It is the United States' best information and belief that the Defendant intends to assert self-defense and accidental shooting as defenses at trial to the charge against him," Jacobson said in her motion. "For that reason the United States believes the on-going tests will be material to the Defendant's preparation of his defense, the results of which may serve to corroborate or refute his theory of defense."

Several units within the crime lab are analyzing evidence in the case including fingerprints, two firearms, clothing worn by Koby Johnson at the time of the shooting and shell casings, Jacobson said.

She said the defendant claimed his wife struck and injured him with multiple objects, including her .22-caliber semiautomatic Ruger, which is part of the evidence being tested.

"DNA analysis is expected to identify the donor of blood on the firearm as well as the clothing worn by the Defendant at the time of (Rachael) Noel Johnson's death," Jacobson said. "DNA analysis may tend to corroborate the Defendant's statement and potentially serve as exculpatory evidence for him."

More time is also needed to analyze digital evidence. Jacobson said an application was filed with Apple to access the locked Apple devices from Rachael Noel Johnson's home.

"The Defendant has stated that he and (Rachael) Noel Johnson were texting messages to each other immediately before he traveled to her residence and she died of a gunshot wound," Jacobson said.

Koby Johnson has remained in custody since the shooting that occurred days before Thanksgiving. FBI agents said Rachael Noel Johnson was killed in front of the couple's children, who ranged in age between 4 months and 13 years, at her home in the Shipton Housing neighborhood on the reservation.

According to witness statements made to the FBI, the couple had been married for about a decade. They had recently separated, and Koby Johnson moved in with his mother in Fort Washakie.

Koby Johnson would go to the family home to care for the children while their mother attended nursing school. He would also stop by to visit, which is why the children didn't hesitate to allow him inside the home when he arrived the day their mother was killed, according to the FBI said.

If found guilty, Koby Johnson faces mandatory life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

He is represented by Federal Public Defender's Office attorney Daniel Blythe of Cheyenne.

Trial is set for eight business days. The judge further ordered the jury pool be composed of Fremont County and Casper residents.

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