State seeking death penalty against man charged with killing police officer

Published 9:50 am Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Shelby County grand jury has returned a two-count indictment on Bart Wayne Johnson, the man charged with shooting and killing a Pelham police officer Dec. 4.

The grand jury charged Johnson with one count of intentionally killing an on-duty police officer, and one count of intentionally causing a death by shooting from an occupied vehicle, Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens announced during a Dec. 10 press conference.

Both counts are capital, which means the state will seek the death penalty against Johnson on both counts, said Owens.

The charges came less than a week after Pelham Police Officer Philip Davis was shot and killed while conducting a traffic stop of Johnson’s vehicle at about 11:50 p.m. near mile marker 243 on Interstate 65.

Johnson is scheduled to appear for arraignment at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4.

Investigators are still trying to determine if Johnson had a motive for shooting Davis during the traffic stop in a congested construction zone, Owens said. Police may learn more details during a 72-hour hearing with Johnson, which was expected to begin Dec. 10.

“The state is not required to show motive. You can’t always say why someone did what they did,” Owens said, noting he could not discuss many aspects of the case until Johnson appears in court. “But we will look into that thoroughly.”

Because the shooting was captured by a dash camera in Davis’ cruiser, Owens said the state has a clear depiction of the incident it could present to a jury.

“The dash camera in this case portrays the event clearly,” Owens said. “It leaves very little doubt about what happened.”

Although police also brought Johnson’s brother, Bill, who is a Trussville police officer, into custody following the shooting, authorities released him and have not brought any charges against him.

Authorities are also trying to determine if drugs or alcohol were present in Bart Johnson’s system when he was pulled over, Owens said.

Since the shooting, the Pelham Police Department has been “overwhelmed” with compassion and support from people throughout the country, said Pelham Police Chief Tommy Thomas.

“Our guys have been overwhelmed by the compassion extended to our office,” Thomas said. “We have gotten cards and letters from people inside and outside the state.

“I think our community and even our state was shocked by this crime,” Thomas added. “It helps us to know that people care about and respect the police.