August 11, 1984 (age 28)
Grand Meadow, Minnesota
1998: 5 counts of murder, 10 counts aggravated assault
2007: drug possession, unlawful firearm possession
2008: theft, financial identity fraud, drug possession
1998: Incarceration until age 18 and to 21 on federal charges
2008: 4-year federal sentence + 18-year state sentence
Johnson and Golden were both students at Westside Middle School, and met and became friends on a school bus they rode home from school. Together they were known to bully other students, and were recalled talking of wanting to belong to the Bloods and smoke marijuana. The Texaco truck stop was a popular hang-out for youths in Jonesboro, and adolescents there remember Johnson claiming to belong to street gangs. He also spoke of "having a lot of killing to do", and his classmates also commented that he had a fascination with firearms. He had particularly threatened to kill sixth-grader Candace Porter, his former girlfriend who ended their relationship.
Golden was a sixth grader at the school, where schoolmates said he displayed troublesome behavior. He would often engage other students in fist fights and use profane language when speaking with teachers. A classmate accused him of killing her cat with a BB gun. After the shooting, Johnson claimed that Golden approached him wanting to start a shooting spree at their school
On the night before the shooting, Golden assisted Johnson in loading his mother's Dodge Caravan with camping supplies, snack foods, seven weapons (two semi-automatic rifles, one bolt-action rifle and four handguns), which had been stolen from Golden's grandfather's house, and 3,500 rounds of ammunition. The following morning, the boys drove in the van to Westside Middle School. As they arrived, Golden pulled the fire alarm while Johnson took the weapons to the woods outside of the school. Golden then ran back to the woods where Johnson had taken the weapons. When children and teachers filed out of the school, the two boys opened fire. The boys killed four female students and one teacher and wounded ten others. Golden and Johnson attempted to run back to the van and escape, but police captured them. The boys evidently planned to run away as they had food, sleeping bags, and survival gear in their van.
During the trial, Johnson hung his head and read a letter of apology he had written to victims' families. He said he wasn't targeting anyone. "We were not going to shoot at anyone in particular," he said. "I really thought we would scare them. I am sorry. I hope anyone who listens to these words knows how truly sorry I am."
While in detention awaiting trial, Johnson wrote a letter that stated: "Hi. My name is Mitchell. My thoughts and prayers are with those people who were killed, or shot, and their families. I am really sad inside about everything. My thoughts and prayers are with those kids that I go to school with. I really want people to know the real Mitchell someday. Sincerely, Mitchell Johnson."
Due to their age, they were tried as juveniles, and were found guilty of five counts of murder. Following their convictions, Johnson and Golden were taken by National Guard helicopter to Alexander, Arkansas, the location of the Youth Services Division's juvenile facility and the state's most secure juvenile facility.
The two youths were among the youngest people ever charged with murder in American history. The Jonesboro prosecutor later stated that were it not for their ages, he would have sought a death sentence for the pair. In August 1998, both boys were sentenced to confinement until they reached the age of 21, which is the maximum sentence available under Arkansas law. They would have served until only age 18 had federal authorities not added additional confinement for weapons charges. Judge Ralph Wilson commented, "This is a case where the punishment will not fit the crime." The case led to a wide public outcry for tougher sentencing laws pertaining to juvenile offenders. Since then, the laws regarding young offenders have changed in Arkansas.
Johnson was released on his 21st birthday, August 11, 2005. He spent less than 2 years in prison for each murder that he committed.
Golden was released on May 25, 2007, also his 21st birthday. Golden's precise whereabouts were unknown until he applied for a concealed weapon permit in Arkansas on October 7, 2008, under the name he now uses, Drew Douglas Grant. His application was denied by the Arkansas State Police, who noted that Golden had lied on the application about his previous residences and claimed it would be illegal for Golden to own or possess a firearm. The assumed name that Golden was using had been unknown up until this point due to a gag order, but police were able to tie Andrew Golden to Grant through fingerprint records during the background check for the permit.
Golden completed his civil case deposition on May 6, 2008.
2007-2008 legal trouble
On January 1, 2007, Johnson was arrested by the ATF after a traffic stop in Fayetteville, Arkansas on misdemeanor charges of carrying a weapon—a loaded 9 mm pistol—and possession of 21.2 grams of marijuana. Though the van Johnson was riding in was registered to him, the driver was 22-year-old Justin Trammell. Trammell and Johnson reportedly met at Alexander Youth Services Correctional Facility in Alexander, Arkansas, where Trammell was incarcerated after pleading guilty to the 1999 crossbow murder of his father, a crime committed when Trammell was 15. The pair were roommates and provided officers with the same Fayetteville address. Trammell was cited for careless driving and released. Johnson was arrested for possession of marijuana and a loaded weapon and later released on a $1,000 bond. He had a court appearance on January 26, 2007 at the Washington County, Arkansas courthouse.
Johnson was indicted by a federal grand jury on October 24, 2007 for possession of a firearm while either using or addicted to a controlled substance. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Arkansas reported that Johnson pleaded not guilty and was released on a $5,000 bond. Johnson's trial began on January 28, 2008. After two days of testimony from the prosecution and the defense witnesses, Johnson was found guilty on a charge of possessing a weapon while being a drug user. In February 2008, just days after his conviction, Johnson was arrested again, this time for possession of marijuana at the convenience store he worked at and on suspicion of using a stolen credit card. In September 2008, US District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren sentenced Mitchell Johnson to four years in prison on the weapon and drug charges. In his sentencing, the judge expressed dismay that Johnson had not taken advantage of the chance he had to go straight. He told him "No matter your sentence, you still have a life, those killed in 1998 do not." On October 7, 2008, Johnson pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge and misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Johnson admitted that he stole a debit card left by a disabled man at the Bentonville gas station where he worked and subsequently used it to purchase a meal at a local Burger King. He also admitted that, at the time he was arrested, he was in possession of marijuana. On November 14, 2008, Johnson, now 24 years old, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the theft charge and misdemeanor possession charges. Although Johnson could have faced up to 30 years, the sentence of 12 years was chosen because Johnson technically had no criminal record from the Jonesboro shooting. On January 23, 2009, Johnson was sentenced to six additional years in prison for an additional charge of theft by receiving and financial identity fraud for using the stolen card to purchase a meal from a local Burger King. Circuit Judge William Storey told Johnson "You continue to run afoul of the law. I am hopeful this is the last time." This brought Johnson's combined state sentences to 18 years. In February 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted Johnson leave to appeal his sentence, saying that the trial judge should not have admitted evidence of the juvenile convictions during the sentencing phase of the theft and possession trial. Johnson will have to complete his federal sentence of four years after serving his 18-year state sentence. He will likely remain incarcerated well into his 30s but was eligible for parole from his Arkansas sentence in 2011, after which he must serve the 4-year federal sentence.
May 25, 1986 (age 26)
Jonesboro, Arkansas, U.S.A
Murder, attempted murder, unlawful firearm possession
Incarceration until age 18 and to 21 on federal charges
Jacqueline and Dennis Golden
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