LOCKPORT — Showing virtually no emotion, 20-year-old Bridget Carmody pleaded guilty in Niagara County Court on Tuesday to helping her boyfriend, Eric Zornek, lure Michael Johnson to his death in an Ontario Avenue home on May 12.

Carmody, standing between her two defense lawyers, stared straight at County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza and never once glanced at the almost one dozen members of Johnson’s family sitting in the courtroom. Carmody’s mother and father also looked on.

In clipped tones, she told the judge she was being treated and taking medication for “general anxiety disorder,” but said her mind was clear and she was physically and mentally able to make a deal with prosecutors.

However, when Sperrazza asked her if she had committed the crime of criminal facilitation, the charge she was facing, Carmody hesitated and asked to speak with her lawyers. When Sperrazza asked her a second time, Carmody responded, “Yes, I believe I was probably rendering aid in a Class A Felony.”

“When we talk about a Class A Felony, what does that mean?” Sperrazza asked.

“Murder,” Carmody said flatly.

“Of who?” Sperrazza inquired.

“Mike Johnson,” Carmody answered.

Sperrazza allowed the former Niagara Falls High School softball player, who was voted “Best Eyes” in the Class of 2003, to remain free in a $7,500 bail bond. Sentencing was set for Jan. 4.

Her guilty plea to second-degree criminal facilitation leaves Carmody facing a potential prison sentence of five to 15 years. Her lead defense lawyer, Joseph LaTona, said he would make a recommendation on a possible sentence, while First Assistant District Attorney Timothy Lundquist said prosecutors would “defer to the judge” on sentencing.

Johnson’s family, on the other hand, said their satisfaction with Carmody’s plea would be based, in large part, on her sentence.

“I’ll be satisfied upon sentencing, if she receives a sentence that fits the crime,” said Johnson’s sister, Tamara Coleman-Lawrie. “This was murder. It was premeditated. She showed no remorse. Our family wants justice.”

In statements to Falls Police investigators, three of Carmody’s closest girlfriends said they were so concerned about what she told them about the Johnson homicide, that they voluntarily sought out the detectives. One woman told the detectives that Carmody told her “she was glad Michael Johnson was dead.”

“Our family is angry. We’re upset,” Coleman-Lawrie said. “He was well loved. He has nieces and nephews who’ve been told their uncle died and they can’t be told how their uncle died because of how horrific it was.”

Police said they responded to the single-family Ontario Avenue home on the morning of May 12, after receiving a call of a “possible body in the basement.”

When officers arrived, they said they found Johnson’s body face down under a black tarp, surrounded by a large quantity of blood. His ankles had been bound with duct tape.

“The body had numerous wounds to the head as a result of blunt force,” Falls Police Detective Capt. Ernest Palmer said. “It was particularly gruesome.”

Detectives have said that Zornek, 20, killed 20-year-old Johnson, by beating him, repeatedly, with a metal pipe in an effort to keep Johnson from assisting federal law enforcement officials who were investigating Zornek and others involved in a U.S.-Canadian marijuana smuggling ring.

Zornek then died later the same day, when he committed suicide by walking in front of a truck on the New York State Thruway near Dunkirk. He had driven to the Dunkirk-Fredonia area with Carmody after killing Johnson.

According to police, Carmody, who originally said Zornek kidnapped her, didn’t just help her boyfriend escape after the Johnson murder. Palmer said she picked up both Zornek and Johnson and took them to the Ontario Avenue home to begin with.

“She not only drove (Zornek) to the crime scene with knowledge of what he was going to do,” Palmer said, “she also picked up (Johnson) at his home and drove him to the crime scene. We believe she knew exactly what Eric Zornek was going to do to Michael Johnson.”

Johnson’s family agrees.

“I think that there’s a lot of truth in this case that’s still untold,” Coleman-Lawrie said.

Federal law enforcement sources have indicated that Carmody had knowledge of and participated in Zornek’s drug smuggling operation.

"Bridget said that she knew that Eric was going to kill Michael while they were in the (Ontario Avenue) house,” one of Carmody’s girlfriends told detectives. “Bridget said that Eric wanted to kill Michael because he couldn’t face going to jail and if Michael disappeared, so would his (Zornek’s) charges.”

Zornek had been facing federal drug charges accusing him of conspiring to import large quantities of marijuana into the United States from Canada. A source familiar with the federal investigation confirmed to the Gazette that Johnson had been scheduled to testify before a grand jury looking into the smuggling activities of Zornek and others.

While not identified by name, the Gazette also has confirmed that Johnson was one of two confidential informants named in a federal criminal complaint charging Zornek with drug smuggling and conspiracy. Johnson reportedly acted as a drug “mule,” transporting marijuana from Canada over the Rainbow Bridge at Zornek’s direction.

LaTona declined to discuss his client’s possible role in Zornek’s drug smuggling operation, saying, “I’m not going to comment on that.”

Instead, LaTona said Carmody, who waived any right to appeal in the case, did the right thing by pleading guilty without any reduction in the charge she was facing.

“It was a tragic situation,” LaTona said. “And my client stood up and took responsibility.”


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