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Murderer sentenced in 1998 cold case

Published April 19, 2010 5:49 pm

Reopened in 2005 » Man still denies strangling his common-law wife.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the 12 years since her death, Cathy Cobb has had three grandchildren. And that's what bothers Cobb's son the most.

"They'll never get to know her," said Cobb's son, William Hall.

A judge on Monday sentenced the man convicted of Cobb's murder, Michael Waddell Johnson, to five years to life in prison.

Johnson continued to deny he strangled Cobb, his common-law wife.

"I was the one with the drugs," Johnson, 65, said Monday in a Salt Lake City courtroom. "So I take full responsibility for that."

Cobb, 40, is believed to have died Jan. 10, 1998, in her Salt Lake City apartment. Hall found her body two days later. Johnson told police he last saw Cobb alive three days earlier when she left a party to get her hair styled.

Police labeled the death "suspicious" and closed the case six months later. Police reopened the case in 2005 as part of a review of old cases ordered by then Mayor Rocky Anderson.

DNA was found under Cobb's fingernails that matched Johnson. Johnson also knew Cobb had been strangled. Prosecutors charged Johnson in January 2007 with first-degree felony murder.

At a trial last month, the defense argued Cobb died of an overdose of cocaine and alcohol, both of which were found in her system. But a former jail cellmate of Johnson's testified Johnson said he killed Cobb because she was dating a Mexican man. A jury convicted him.

Monday's sentencing hearing was delayed about 90 minutes after Johnson refused to leave the Salt Lake County jail. When Johnson arrived in court, he said the guards had not let him complete his "studies." Johnson's attorney, Nisa Sisneros, described Johnson as a changed man who studies the Bible and was about to complete drug court when he was charged with murder.

Deputy District Attorney Joseph Hill noted Johnson abused Cobb for years, breaking her bones and once stabbing her in the thigh with a fork.

"I think that's the saddest part of this: what could have been for Mrs. Cobb," Hill said.

Johnson will receive credit for the three years he has served in jail.

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