Man pleads guilty to killing Utah police Sgt. Derek Johnson
By Marissa lang
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jul 08 2014 11:02AM
West Jordan • For the first time since Sgt. Derek Johnson was killed last year, his family on Tuesday faced the man who pulled the trigger.
They didn’t mince words.
Selfish, they called him. Evil. Pitiful. Murderer.
One by one, those closest to the fallen officer implored a 3rd District Judge to send Timothy Troy Walker to prison for the rest of his life.
Walker sat in silence, his shoulders slumped, hands shackled behind his back.
Moments earlier, before a courtroom packed with uniform-clad law enforcement officers, weeping friends, family and spectators, Walker had pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to aggravated murder.
The plea allowed him to escape with his life — the maximum possible penalty for the crime could have been death — but ensured he would spend the rest of it behind bars.
"In our society we have so few heroes, and yet you took one away from us," said Judge Mark Kouris, who sentenced Walker to the maximum amount of time he could. "The next time you leave the penitentiary will be after your death. You will never walk out again."
Walker said he won’t let the years spent behind bars go to waste.
In his first public statement since the September shooting, the 34-year-old man apologized to the Johnson family.
"I’m standing before you today because I took the life of a dedicated public servant, a husband, a father," Walker said, between tears. "I would gladly trade my life for Officer Johnson’s, but there’s nothing I can do to bring him back."
This, Kouris said, is a void no punishment can fill.
"There are no winners here today," Kouris said. "Sgt. Johnson is still not going to come home tomorrow."
After court adjourned Tuesday, the fallen officer’s father, Randy Johnson, told a crowd of television cameras and reporters that this was the outcome he believed his son would have wanted.
"We’re grateful for this resolution because it was a quick resolution. If the courts were different and it wouldn’t take forever to pursue, possibly, the death penalty, we would have considered that. But this is the very best scenario — that we can be done and we can now move forward and celebrate Derek’s life," the father said. "There’s a finality in this that was very difficult to deal with, but there’s also comfort that comes."
Derek Johnson — the father of a 7-year-old son — has been described as loving, dedicated, infectiously cheerful, ambitious, courageous and heroic.
He was in a marked Draper City police vehicle about 6 a.m. on Sept. 1, when he noticed a man standing outside of his stopped Volvo near 13200 S. Fort St.
It was Walker.
According to court documents, Walker had stopped the car because he ran out of gas and the passenger-side front tire had gone flat from driving over a curb, a stop sign, a large rock and then through a fence at 13800 S. 933 East.
He kept driving a few blocks to the area of 13200 South before he encountered Johnson.
When the young officer pulled up near the Volvo to see if he could help, Walker allegedly shot Johnson, launching a bullet through the open front passenger-side window of Johnson’s police car.
Johnson was hit in the chest. He tried to drive northbound to safety, but Walker, who was allegedly under the influence of methamphetamine at the time, fired at least three more shots, which struck Johnson’s vehicle.
Johnson, 32, died a short time later.
"Derek was trying to help you that morning," said the officer’s mother, Laura Johnson, her voice cracking with grief. "Instead you gunned him down."
Walker then turned the gun on his girlfriend, Traci Vaillancourt — who was charged with two counts of second-degree felony obstructing justice for allegedly lying to investigators about what happened on that day — before shooting himself in the jaw in a failed suicide bid.
For the first several months of Walker’s court proceedings, he was unable to speak to his lawyers or the judge, as his mouth was wired shut post-surgery.
Defense attorney Denise Porter told the court Tuesday that once Walker was able to speak again, one of the first things he told her was that he wanted "to take responsibility for his conduct."
The officer’s widow, Shante Johnson, told Walker between sobs that it was the "only thing" he could do.
"I’m grateful today that you’ve done the only thing that is right. It’s the only thing you can do," Shante Johnson told Walker, sobbing. "I hope you take what’s left of your life and do something with it."
As Johnson’s family exited the courtroom in tears, their arms finding each other in the cramped hallway of the West Jordan courthouse, Walker’s family hurried past.
His mother, who declined to speak to the media, cried, "I still love him," as she walked by.
"There are no winners in these cases," Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Vince Meister said. "The family’s lost, everybody’s lost. There are no winners."
Johnson’s family and supporters donned black and blue ribbons to honor the fallen officer, shield pins to show their support of and by the Draper Police Department and American flag-patterned ties.
Darin Johnson, strung Buddhist mala beads around his neck as a symbol of peace and remembrance. Along the strand, he added pieces of aquamarine — his deceased brother’s birth stone.
"My brother, my best friend, my mentor, my hero, was taken from me," he said in court.
Walker’s girlfriend, Vaillancourt, 35, remains in the Salt Lake County Jail, where she is completing a drug treatment program. She has a scheduling hearing set for Tuesday before Kouris.