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News Release
Judge denies DNA testing motion for Oregon death row inmate - 02/12/18

To: All Media

From: Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau

Date: February 12, 2018

RE: State of Oregon v. Jesse Lee Johnson, 98C46239, Defendant's Motion for Post-Conviction DNA Testing Pursuant to ORS 138.690.


Today Marion County Circuit Court Judge Channing Bennett DENIED convicted capital murderer Jesse Lee Johnson's Motion for Post-Conviction DNA Testing Pursuant to ORS 138.690 in a letter opinion (attached).

Johnson was convicted of Aggravated Murder and sentenced to death in Marion County Circuit Court in 2004 for killing Harriet "Sunny" Laverne Thompson on March 28, 1998.

Johnson's conviction and death sentence were automatically reviewed by the Oregon Supreme Court as required by Oregon Law. In 2007, the court affirmed Johnson's conviction and death sentence. State v. Johnson, 342 Or 596 (2007).

Johnson pursued another challenge to his conviction and death sentence in a post-conviction proceeding beginning in 2008. That was litigated for over seven years until the post-conviction court DENIED Johnson relief on May 15, 2015. Johnson v. Premo, Marion County Circuit Court No. 08C11553.

On July 26, 2016, Steven Wax from the Oregon Innocence Project was court-appointed at the defendant's request.

On November 16, 2016, Wax along with attorneys Brittney Plesser and Aliza Kaplan with the Oregon Innocence Project filed this Motion for Post-Conviction DNA Testing Pursuant to ORS 138.690.

On March 23, 2017, the state filed its response asking the court to deny Johnson's request.

On October 4, 2017, a hearing was held before Judge Bennett and the motion was taken under advisement. Today's ruling denying Johnson's motion for additional DNA testing was based on his failure to articulate a "theory of defense" or make a case that DNA testing would lead to a finding of innocence. (Opinion, Page 3)

Judge Bennett noted that the evidence at the jury trial in 2004 "focused on Defendant's denial that he knew the victim, his denial that he had been in the victim's apartment, his confession made to a drug dealer, Defendant's possession of the victim's jewelry shortly after the crime, Defendant's palm print and thumb print found on items at the crime scene and a witness who described someone similar to the Defendant being outside the crime scene on the night of the murder. Further DNA testing of the items identified by the Defendant would not controvert any of this evidence." (Opinion, Page 3)

The Marion County District Attorney's Office has been in contact with Harriett Thompson's family throughout this entire process.

Attached Media Files: Court's Letter Opinion
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