Suspect's mentors say mental illness drove to 2015 White Rock Trail machete attack

The former Skyline High School and Texas A&M football player accused of murdering a Dallas jogger with a machete will finally go on trial Monday.

Police say Thomas Johnson admitted to attacking 52-year-old David Stevens on White Rock Creek Trail in 2015. He later told police he had schizophrenia and was off his medication.

It’s been nearly four years since Stevens was murdered while running on White Rock Creek Trail. The trial for his murder has faced delays partly due to evaluations of Johnson's mental state.

Dave and Lisa Stephenson have known Johnson since 2014 when one of his former high school football coaches asked the couple to take him under their wing. The couple has mentored troubled youth for more than a decade and started a ministry through their church.

“This is a tragic, tragic situation. But the Lord can make something good out of it,” Lisa said. “Somebody somewhere along the line in this process said to me, ‘Is he worth it?’ And that just raised every hackle I had because we’re all worth it.”

After bailing Johnson out of jail for a previous offense, the couple says he was supposed to stay with them for 12 weeks, getting counseling and preparing to go back to A&M. But, one day, he left suddenly to visit his mother and never came back.

The Stephensons didn't see Johnson again until a year later when he appeared in the news when he was accused of killing Steven, an avid runner, with a machete on White Rock Creek Trail. The grief was too much for Stevens' wife of 25 years, Patti. She committed suicide just two weeks later.

“We never saw an angry or violent bone in Thomas’ body when he was here,” Lisa said. “Never in a million years were we ever concerned for our safety. It was shocking.”

Despite the awful nature of the crime, the Stephensons have never stopped giving Johnson support. They have continued visiting him and praying for him.

“We are not here to raise up Thomas as being innocent in what he did,” David said. “We feel absolutely terrible for the Stevens family for what they encountered that day.”

Johnson's family and attorneys have said he has schizophrenia, he's been through extensive psychiatric evaluations and treatment, and is now back on his medication. He was recently found fit to stand trial this year.

“To me, that's the greatest respect we could pay to the Stevens family is for something good to come out of this,” Lisa said. “For there to be some major breakthrough in mental health or something good to come from this devastation.”

Jury selection happened this week. Johnson’s trial is set to start on Monday at 9 a.m.  Both of Johnson's mentors say they plan to be there.

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