DA Owens: Johnson killed Pelham officer to avoid traffic ticket

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA –Before Dec. 3, 2009, Bart Johnson had received 18 speeding tickets.

The ticket found between slain Pelham Police officer Philip Davis’ legs would have been No. 19.

And that wasn’t acceptable to Johnson, District Attorney Robby Owens said Thursday in closing arguments of Johnson’s capital murder trial.

That 19th speeding ticket would have suspended Johnson’s license.

Jurors begin deliberation Thursday morning to decide if Johnson is guilty or not guilty of the crime.

Owens told jurors Johnson decided to shoot Davis as soon as he saw the blue lights of Davis’ police car on Interstate 65 on Dec. 3, 2009.

Using slow motion footage from the dash-mounted camera in Davis’ car, Owens suggested the following:

After using his blinker to pull off the interstate, Johnson never took his foot off the brake, Owens said. Johnson turned on all the interior lights so that Davis, when he first approached, would look inside, see no weapons and get a false sense of security.

As Davis ran Johnson’s license information back in his patrol car, Owens said, pointing out the occurrence on video, Johnson began turning off all the interior lights, one by one so as not to arouse suspicion.

Johnson positioned a Glock .40-caliber pistol beneath his right leg by the time Davis returned to the window, Owens said.

“Where do you work,” Davis asked Johnson.

“Why does that matter?,” Johnson responded.

A few seconds later, Owens said, Johnson stuck the gun to Davis’ face and pulled the trigger. Johnson’s brake lights went off two seconds after the gunshot. Six seconds after the gunshot, Johnson’s Acura pulled away.

Johnson had been talking to his brother when Davis began to pull him over. Trussville Police officer Bill Johnson called Bart Johnson back and asked if he had gotten a ticket.

“Nope, not this time,” Bill Johnson quoted his brother as saying in a videotaped interview.

Johnson then hatched a plan to get away with murder, Owens told jurors.

The plan, Owens said, was to ditch the car somewhere north, then somehow get south of the scene of the shooting. Then, Owens said, Johnson would get rid of the shirt he was wearing and the gun, because both had Davis’ blood on them.

“All he (Johnson) has to say is my car was stolen and my billfold was in it,” Owens said. “That’s what the facts say they had in mind.”

All the information contained on the ticket found by Davis’ body was taken from Johnson’s license, with one exception, Owens said: place of employment.

Davis wrote “unemployed” on the ticket.

Johnson’s defense attorney, Charles Salvagio, told jurors the case is about mental illness.

“Why would he do this if it’s not mental illness?” Salvagio asked. “He’s a sick person. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

It doesn’t have to make sense, Owens later countered.

“Why people kill people rarely makes sense,” Owens said. “Murder doesn’t make sense.”