DALLAS - A former Texas A&M football player who was convicted of using a machete to murder a Dallas jogger has been sentenced to life behind bars.
Thomas Johnson — once a stand out football player at A&M and Skyline High School — was sentenced to life in prison for the random murder of 53-year-old Dave Stevens with a machete as he jogged on White Rock Creek Trail in 2015.
He could be eligible for parole in 30 years.
The tragedy compounded by the loss of Stevens’ wife, who was heartbroken and committed suicide shortly after his death.
Stevens’ relatives declined to comment on the verdict.
“They’ve suffered a great loss, and there’s nothing that I can do but apologize and pray. God knows that I wish I could change the whole situation all together,” Johnson’s father, Robert Johnson, said.
It took a Dallas County jury less than 15 minutes on Tuesday to find Thomas Johnson guilty. The jury then came down with the life sentence just after noon on Wednesday.
Much of the focus during sentencing was Johnson’s struggle with mental illness and his refusal to take his medication.
Both sides agreed Johnson didn’t act out of evil, but suffers from severe mental illness.
The defense hoped jurors would take that into consideration and hand down a lighter sentence, but prosecutors say this was an issue of community safety and jurors agreed.
Johnson’s defense attorney asked jurors to consider a lesser sentence, arguing Johnson was under the influence of his disease and did not choose to be schizophrenic.
“This is an issue of what do you do with someone who commits a crime that’s mentally ill,” attorney Paul Johnson said.
“The system right now is pathetic. When I asked for help, it was hard to get help at first,” Robert Johnson added.
Johnson’s father says this tragic case highlights the help families need in dealing with mentally ill relatives, especially if, like his son, they refuse to admit they’re sick and take medication.
When asked if the jury made the right decision, Johnson’s father was torn.
“I can’t say that they didn’t. I’m a dad though. Do I want a life sentence for my son? No,” Robert Johnson said. “Can I say that they made the right choice? My heart is torn so many different directions.
“In the bigger picture, we’ve got to start talking care of the mentally ill,” special prosecutor Andrea Moseley said. “There are far too many people with mental illness in the jail, far too many in the penitentiary, but unfortunately with no other system, we’ve got to protect the community.
Johnson could have received anything from five years to life in prison.