ELKTON — The murder trial for a man accused beating a woman to death with a baseball bat inside her Elkton-area home in October 2018 started Tuesday with this revelation: His co-defendant cut a deal with prosecutors and will be testifying against him this week.
Deputy State's Attorney Patricia Fitzgerald told jurors in her opening statement that the first suspect investigators arrested in the case — Jacob Michael Johnston, 25, of Elkton — identified the man now on trial — Greggory Lee Johnson, 39 — as the person who killed Karen Johnston Colclough, 60, inside her residence in the 500 block of Augustine Herman Highway, south of Elkton.
The victim was Jacob Johnston's aunt.
Jacob Johnson admitted to shooting his aunt in the head with “snake shot or bird shot,” which is a bullet containing small pellets, during the robbery-related slaying, Fitzgerald reported.
“But that's not what killed her,” Fitzgerald qualified, noting that the state would be calling as a witness a medical examiner who would detail Colclough's injuries and explain which ones caused her death.
Colclough died from trauma relating to — according to the account that Jacob Johnston gave investigators — Greggory Johnson striking the woman several times in the head with an aluminum baseball bat and, or, a small metal shovel used to tend fireplaces, the prosecutor reported.
Fitzgerald told jurors that Jacob Johnston “proffered a plea deal” in May, agreeing to detail the murder of his aunt for Maryland State Police detectives and then to testify to that effect as a state witness during his co-defendant's trial.
Jacob Johnston also agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and to receive a maximum 40-year sentence.
Also part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to dismiss first-degree murder, which is punishable by up to life in prison, and other related charges against Jacob Johnston.
As of Tuesday, however, that plea deal hadn't been executed, according to prosecutors and Cecil County Circuit Court records, which indicated that Jacob Johnston's murder trial was still pending.
“He (Jacob Johnston) will tell you that he shot his aunt. But he did not kill his aunt. What killed her was being struck with a bat and shovel,” Fitzgerald told jurors.
During her opening statement, however, Christina Louise Harris Schlecker, who is Greggory Johnson's defense lawyer, cautioned jurors about Jacob Johnston's motives and about the validity of his upcoming testimony.
“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.”
State testimony Tuesday indicated that investigators determined the culprits had ransacked Colclough's home and stole approximately $1,000 that had been hidden in a living room clock and her cell phone. It also indicated that they had stolen the victim's 2016 Cadillac CTS, which later was recovered in Philadelphia after it had been torched alongside a road.
Investigators also testified that they found an aluminum bat that had blood and hair on it and a fireplace shovel lying side-by-side on the bed in the Colclough's bedroom. In addition, according to state testimony, investigators found the grip of a broken revolver.
A blanket had been placed over a kitchen window, blocking Colclough's body from outside view, and bleach had been poured inside the house in an apparent attempt destroy evidence, according to state testimony.
Greggory Johnson, who has remained jailed without bond since his arrest some eight month ago, is charged with first-degree murder and several other related offenses.
His murder trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning, with the state still presenting its case.
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.
Court records allege that the murder occurred during a robbery to finance the purchase of drugs, which occurred in Philadelphia.
Greggory Johnson's arrest came some four months after MSP detectives had arrested Jacob Johnston, whom investigators took into custody within a week after the slaying.
MSP detectives started their investigation at about 11:40 a.m. Oct. 21, 2018, when they went to Colclough’s residence after family members found her lying face down in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor and called 911, police said.
The family members and a longtime friend of Colclough's had gone to her house — where she lived alone with three pet dogs — out of concern, because they hadn't been able to reach her by text or phone for three days, which was highly suspect, police added.
Among the last text messages Colclough had sent was one to her brother on Oct. 18, advising that Jacob Johnston was at her home — asking for money and asking to live there because he was homeless after his recent jail release, police reported.
Investigators determined that text messages regarding drugs were sent to an unknown number from Colclough’s phone on Oct. 18 — after it had been stolen, police said. Family members told police that Colclough did not use drugs, according to court records.
During a tracked cellphone conversation with his girlfriend, Jacob Johnston told her that he had been at his aunt’s residence and when she asked about her murder, he replied, “It didn’t go down like that,” court records show.
His girlfriend also told investigators that Jacob Johnston had shown up at her Elkton-area residence Oct. 18 driving a silver Cadillac, which he told her was a rental, police said.
In addition, police added, she told investigators that the couple went to a Philadelphia-area to pawn jewelry and that they used the money received to buy drugs, police added. Jacob Johnston reportedly wiped down the Cadillac, before abandoning it in Philadelphia, police reported.
MSP investigators arrested and charged Jacob Johnston with his aunt’s murder on Oct. 22, 2018, one day after Elkton Police Department detectives filed drug charges against him in connection with an Oct. 8 raid in which officers confiscated 75 packets containing a mix of suspect heroin and fentanyl, court records show.
Court records indicate that four people accompanied Jacob Johnston on that trip to Philadelphia and that, moreover, two of them walked into the North East Barrack on Christmas Day — wanting to provide “additional information on Karen Colclough’s homicide.” That led to MSP Cpl. Nathan Wilson, lead investigator, interviewing them on Jan. 9.
“They provided information that Greggory Johnson confessed to being part of Colclough’s murder to his mother, Sharon Johnson, on Dec. 19. Greg stated to his mother, Sharon, ‘I killed somebody. The woman on (Route) 213,’” according to court records.
In Greggory Johnson's purported version, however, it was Jacob Johnston who pummeled Colclough to death and that it was he who shot the woman with the snake shot, court records allege.
Greggory Johnson told his mother, “I had to shoot her to prove to the other guy (Jacob Johnston) that she (Colclough) was dead so he would stop beating her,” according to court records.
That led to MSP detectives conducting a Jan. 21 interview with Greggory Johnson, who told investigators that he knew Jacob Johnston through buying drugs from him and that he hadn’t seen Johnston since overdosing inside his West End Gardens Motel guest room in Elkton on Sept. 14, 2018 — a month before Colclough was murdered, police said.
MSP investigators twice interviewed Greggory Johnson’s mother, who told detectives that her son confessed to his involvement in the murder and that he later recanted, telling her “it was all just rumor,” court records show.
Greggory Johnson’s mother — as the two informants had done in December — relayed to investigators the reason Johnson allegedly shot Colclough, police reported.
“During this interview, (the mother) corroborates Greggory Johnson’s confession, stating, ‘Greg told me ... he was involved in a murder. Greg said the woman on (Route) 213. Jacob was bashing her head in and he had to run out to his car and get his gun, so he could shoot her to prove to Jacob that she was dead. (The mother) asked where Greg told her he shot Karen (Colclough) and she advised, ‘Greg said he shot her in the head,’” court record allege.
The mother told investigators that her son made that confession while they were together at the Walmart in the Northeast Shopping Plaza, police said. That same day, MSP detectives viewed store surveillance video that showed Greggory Johnson and his mother together at the Walmart at about the time she told investigators he had made his confession, police added.