Suspect in deadly 2015 Dallas running trail machete attack set for trial

A former Texas A&M wide receiver charged with a deadly 2015 machete attack is preparing for his murder trial.

Thomas Johnson appeared in court Friday morning for a pre-trial hearing and told the judge he's aware of the charges he's facing.

Johnson has been in jail or in a treatment facility since October 2015. He stood before a judge on Friday saying he is now fit to stand trial for the brutal murder of David Stevens. Johnson has a history of mental illness.

Police say Johnson randomly encountered Stevens running on White Rock Creek Trail and savagely attacked him, hacking the 53-year old engineer to death with a machete, then calling 911 to confess.

Compounding the tragedy, Stevens' wife of 25-years, Patti, committed suicide two weeks later.

"In my mind, this is a case is more of a tragedy than a crime. The truth of the matter is this tragedy was born by mental illness and it's had some horrific tragic results for a lot of people,” said Paul Johnson, who is Thomas Johnson’s attorney.

Johnson, a former Texas A&M wide receiver with a bright football future, began a downward spiral in 2012. Johnson's father told fox4 in 2016 his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia but refused to take his meds.

His attorney says Johnson is now fit to stand trial after undergoing an extensive psychiatric examination and treatment -- but did not say if he will use "insanity" in his client's defense.

Criminal defense attorney Heath Harris does not represent Johnson but has used that defense to represent clients before.

"The most important thing is you've got to prove that he was insane at the time of the offense,” Harris said. "It's really a double edge sword because although you are found not guilty, you are still going to be confined to a mental hospital."

The problem is, Harris says, jurors are not allowed to be told that fact.

"That makes jurors lean toward going ahead and convicting a person, as opposed to having them walk out of that door and not be held responsible for some horrific offense that they did and that's the biggest problem with the insanity defense,” Harris said.

A pre-trial hearing is set for later this month and the murder trial is set to begin March 4.