A San Bernardino County woman convicted of murdering a Korean War veteran, and who told police she dismembered his body with a chain saw and rolled his head down a hill off Mt. Baldy Road, was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Marcia Ann Johnson, 44, and her partner drained the bank accounts and sold the home of the victim, Mt. Baldy resident Jack Irwin, after the grisly 1999 murder.
Johnson filed a missing persons report, saying that she had dropped off Irwin, 71, at a train station for a trip to Washington state and he had never returned.
"You told police Mr. Irwin purchased a train ticket to see the Emerald City of Seattle, but the jury did not believe that," Superior Court Judge Gus James Skropos told Johnson at the sentencing hearing in Rancho Cucamonga. "What they bought was that he purchased a one-way ticket to the afterworld from you, and that the ticket was punched -- not by a conductor, but by you."
Two years after Irwin's disappearance, San Bernardino County sheriff's detectives and the district attorney's office opened a "cold case" investigation.
Authorities determined that Johnson and her lesbian partner, Judy Gellert, had befriended Irwin just months before his disappearance. They had persuaded him to add them to his trust, and to give them access to his bank accounts.
By tracking months of withdrawals and purchases from Irwin's accounts following his disappearance, investigators determined that the pair had collected $310,000 in a "systematic looting" of Irwin's bank accounts and other assets, prosecutor Tristan Svare said.
In phone calls recorded by police, and in a statement to detectives in October 2002, Johnson said she shot Irwin in the head at his Mt. Baldy cabin because he had repeatedly exposed himself to her and also made disparaging comments about Gellert.
After killing him, Johnson cut off Irwin's head, feet and hands with a chain saw, loaded the dismembered body in her SUV, then stopped along Mt. Baldy Road to begin hiding the body parts, she said in a videotaped statement to investigators.
Johnson said she took Irwin's head out of a plastic bag and rolled it down a hill, yelling at it for "making me do this to him," as it tumbled away. She said she dropped off other body parts at remote locations in Mt. Baldy and Wrightwood. Irwin's remains have not been found.
Johnson later said her confession was a delusion, the result of alcohol use and her bipolar disorder. The prosecutor dismissed Johnson's claim.
"There was too much machination going on with her financial maneuvers to believe that she raised that gun to the back of Jack Irwin's head and shot him as a sudden reaction," Svare said after the sentencing. "The evidence bore out that this was a murder for financial profit."
Gellert struck a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against Johnson, and last month was sentenced to 180 days in jail and five years' probation, and was ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution.
In addition to being convicted of murder for financial gain, Johnson was found guilty of 25 counts relating to the murder, including fraud and gun charges.
Johnson's mother, Joyce, briefly addressed Skropos before the sentencing, telling the judge, "I love my daughter very much. She's always been a beautiful daughter."
"That's understood," Skropos answered.
Svare said he remained hopeful that Johnson would decide in prison to tell authorities where she dumped Irwin's remains, so his friends and family could conduct a proper burial.