Niagara Gazette

Courts

January 26, 2010

COURTS: Johnson gets the maximum for murder of his wife

On a cold and blustery Highland Avenue, in the overcast of a late January afternoon, dozens of white balloons filled the gray skies and the crowd that gathered to release them yelled, “We love you Ahkenya. We miss you.”

It was the end of a day that saw the friends and family of Ahkenya Johnson watch her husband sentenced to up to life in prison for her murder, while at the same time Robert Johnson’s attorneys claimed another man has now confessed to the crime.

An overflow crowd that tried to pack into Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy’s courtroom forced Johnson’s sentencing to be moved across the rotunda of the County Courthouse in Lockport and into the larger ceremonial courtroom of Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza.

However, before the sentencing began, Johnson’s defense attorney, Michael McNelis, asked Murphy to throw out his client’s conviction and order a new trial. McNelis said on Friday he learned that another man, Thomas Pryor, has admitted that he killed Ahkenya.

“The nature of the relief I’m seeking is a new trial,” McNelis told Murphy. “Pryor confessed (to a jailhouse informant).

McNelis later told Murphy the informant is Robert Thousand, a 17-year-old and one of the accused killers of a group home counselor who was murdered in Lockport in June. Thousand, in an affidavit supplied to McNelis, claims Pryor confessed to killing Ahkenya Johnson during a conversation at the Niagara County Jail around Thanksgiving.

Assistant District Attorney Lisa Baehre told the judge Pryor’s name had come up during the homicide investigation but the evidence in the case led to Robert Johnson.

“Thomas Pryor’s name is not new,” Baehre said. “This is not new evidence. What Mr. Thousand states is hearsay, completely unreliable and inconsistent with the facts brought out at trial.”

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