ELKTON — A Cecil County Circuit Court jury has acquitted a man of murder charges and all other counts relating to the slaying of a woman who was shot in the head and beaten with a baseball bat inside of her Elkton-area home in October 2018.
Jurors deliberated for less than an hour Thursday at the conclusion of a four-day-long trial, before finding the defendant – Greggory Lee Johnson, 39 – not guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, first-degree assault, second-degree assault and four mirroring conspiracy charges.
The jury also acquitted Johnson of accessory after the fact of first-degree murder and accessory after the fact of second-degree murder.
Represented by Elkton-based lawyer Christina Louise Harris Schlecker, who was assisted by local attorney C. Thomas Brown, Johnson was expected to be released from custody by Thursday night. He had been held in the Cecil County Detention Center without bond since his arrest in February.
Deputy State's Attorney Patricia Fitzgerald and Assistant State's Attorney Robert E. Sentman prosecuted the case. Greggory Johnson stood accused of murdering Karen Johnston Colclough, 60, inside her residence in the 500 block of Augustine Herman Highway (Route 213), south of Elkton, on Oct. 18, 2018.
"Our prosecutors presented the strongest case, based on the available evidence to the jury in the case. I'm proud of the work that the Maryland State Police and my prosecutors did. The 'not guilty' verdict is a (part) of the truth-finding nature of the jury trial process, and we respect the verdict this jury rendered," Interim Cecil County State's Attorney James Dellmyer told the Cecil Whig shortly after Johnson was acquitted.
Dellmyer added, "Irrespective of the jury's verdict, we continue to honor the memory of Karen Colclough."
Greggory Johnson’s acquittal Thursday came a day after his co-defendant – Jacob Michael Johnson, 25, of Elkton – had testified as a state witness.
Jacob Johnston told jurors that it was Greggory Johnson who beat Colclough with a fireplace shovel and aluminum baseball bat inside her residence.
Colclough was Jacob Johnston’s aunt.
That alleged beating by Greggory Johnson occurred seconds after Jacob Johnston grabbed a handgun, stood in front of his aunt and shot her in the head, he said. Moments earlier, Johnston added, he had found that handgun in his aunt’s living room and hid it in the front pocket of his hoodie, before she reentered that room.
“I take the gun. I point it at her and pull the trigger and she fell to the ground. The gun fell to the ground and broke apart and she started reaching for it. Then Greg started hitting her with a fireplace shovel . . .,” Jacob Johnston, clad in a jail uniform, told the jurors.
A medical examiner testified that the bullet caused only superficial wounds and that the blunt force trauma to the head by the baseball bat and shovel caused Colclough’s death.
Trial testimony indicated that the bullet contained “snake shot,” which, used to kill snakes, birds and small rodents at close range, is filled with small pellets.
Jacob Johnston said he went outside the house, after shooting his aunt, to see if he could start her car and, when he reentered, Greggory Johnson “didn’t have the shovel anymore; he had the bat and the damage was pretty much done.”
After that, according to Jacob Johnston, he and Greggory Johnson ransacked the place — stealing $1,000, his aunt’s cell phone and other property, including her Cadillac CST, which he then drove as the getaway car.
He also admitted to pouring bleach throughout his aunt’s house in an attempt to obliterate evidence.
The motive, according to Jacob Johnston, was a robbery to finance his severe heroin addiction.
After dropping off Greggory Johnson at an Elkton neighborhood, he and others traveled to Philadelphia and bought heroin, he said. Then he torched that Cadillac along a Philadelphia street, he added.
The defense reminded jurors that Jacob Johnston took the witness stand on Wednesday after accepting a plea deal.
In that plea deal, in exchange for detailing how his aunt was murdered and for testifying at his co-defendant’s trial, Jacob Johnston would plead guilty to second-degree murder and receive a 40-year prison sentence.
Also part of the deal, prosecutors would dismiss first-degree murder, which is punishable by up to life in prison.
“You were looking at a life sentence. Now, instead of dying in prison, you have a chance to get out,” Schlecker told Johnston while cross-examining him.
During her opening statement to jurors, Schlecker asserted that Jacob Johnston had a reason to lie because of the plea deal that he accepted.
“The story you are going to hear him tell is beyond belief,” Schlecker remarked, after describing Jacob Johnston as a “confessed killer” who made a “very self-serving statement to get a sweetheart deal.”
Jacob Johnston maintained, however, that he was telling the truth because it was “right thing to do.”
Testimony given by a state forensics expert indicated that Jacob Johnston’s DNA was found on two items – a cigarette butt and the bleach bottle cap – collected at the crime scene.
But Greggory Johnson’s DNA wasn’t found on any of the evidence collected at the crime scene, including the baseball bat marked by blood and hair, the fireplace shovel and a blanket that had been placed over a kitchen window in an apparent effort to block an outside view of Colclough’s body.
Maryland State Police investigators started their investigation at approximately 11:40 a.m. Oct. 21, 2018, after two family members and a decades-long close friend of Colclough discovered her body lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen.
The two family members and the longtime friend had gone to her home because no one had been able to reach Colclough by phone or by text for the past three days, ever since Oct. 18, and that was highly suspect.
Trial testimony from the two relatives indicated that Colclough had texted them on Oct. 18 to report that Jacob Johnston showed up at her home, that he did not look physically well, that he wanted money from her and that he wanted her to let him live there for a while.
Colclough, however, did not mention that Greggory Johnson or anyone else was with Jacob Johnston at her home, they testified. In addition, when she drove her nephew to a nearby store to buy him a sandwich, she never mentioned seeing Greggory Johnson or anyone else in or around her house during those text conversations.
Jacob Johnston had testified that Greggory Johnson had remained outside the home, on a patio area, until he and his aunt returned from the store and that’s when he joined them inside the residence.
Police arrested Greggory Johnson in February, after an autopsy revealed the victim had been shot in the head and after informants — other than Jacob Johnston — implicated him in the murder, police reported.
A state witness who also is incarcerated, Joseph Swauger, told MSP investigators during a recorded interview that Greggory Johnson had admitted some involvement in the murder of Colclough.
But on Wednesday, Swauger, also wearing an inmate uniform, declined to testify about what Greggory Johnson purportedly told him, telling prosecutors that he did not remember that portion of the statements he had made to detectives.
Prosecutors played the tape for jurors, after Swauger declined to testify. Swauger remarked that he couldn’t even discern if that was his voice on the audio, explaining, “I’ve never heard a recording of my voice.”
In the recording, Swauger tells detectives, “He (Greggory Johnson) broke down crying one night. He told me he did what he had to do. He shot her to stop him (Jacob Johnston) from beating her.”
Court records indicate that another person told investigators that Greggory Johnson had confided that he shot Colclough in the head, but only to convince Jacob Johnston that she was dead so he would stop bashing her with the baseball bat.
That person, however, was not called as a witness.