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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2007
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Dad sentenced to death in baby's slaying

BREWTON (AP) — A judge granted an Atmore man's request to be sentenced to death for the 2005 murder of his 6-month-old son, a sentence imposed as the defendant sat shackled to a wheelchair.

Escambia County authorities rolled Christopher Thomas Johnson, 34, into court Wednesday bound to the wheelchair to control his potentially disruptive behavior.

"The look on my wife's face at the trial and the last thing she said to me was enough: 'I hope you die soon,' " Johnson said at sentencing, the Press-Register reported Thursday. "The family agrees. I deserve death, and I really don't know what's to debate here."

Prosecutors said attempts to notify the child's mother, 25-year-old Dana Johnson, were unsuccessful.

Jurors in December convicted Johnson of killing Elias Ocean Johnson on Feb. 20, 2005. According to testimony, Johnson lay on top of the baby, jammed his fingers down the baby's throat and beat him to death because he was crying.

Forensic tests showed 85 separate injuries to the child.

At trial, Johnson said he didn't want the crying baby to wake his wife, but had also testified that he wanted out of his marriage, hated his wife and killing the baby was the best way to hurt his wife and avoid having to pay child support.

He asked jurors to recommend a sentence of death, and they granted that request.

On Wednesday, Escambia County Circuit Judge Bradley Byrne adopted the jury's recommended penalty. A death sentence in Alabama, even with such a plea, brings an automatic appeal.

Byrne said Johnson was "ill-equipped to be a parent" and made "terrible decisions" on the night of the child's death.

The judge called Johnson's firing of his attorneys and subsequent inconsistent statements manipulative.

"If anyone got up in court and testified as you did, it would be an easy call for this court," Byrne said. "As much as I've wrestled with it, you've manufactured this situation, dismissing your attorneys. But it is not my job to go into your mind and consider your motives for doing so. ... I've got to accept the evidence presented, and the testimony presented, and the appropriate sentence is the death penalty."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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