A Fort Wayne man serving a 170-year sentence for the murders last year of two people in Ligonier over a designer handbag has lost an appeal challenging his convictions and the prison term.
Michael J. Johnson, 36, sought a shorter sentence and argued the Noble County trial court abused its discretion when it allowed some evidence. He said he was high on drugs and “less culpable” when he shot and killed Amanda Feldstein, 39, and Justin Adams, 30, on March 5, 2018 – a challenge to state law defining murder as knowingly and intentionally killing another person.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled against each argument, as well as another from Johnson that he shouldn't have been sentenced as a habitual offender.
In a 19-page decision issued Wednesday, Judges L. Mark Bailey, Edward W. Najam Jr. and Melissa S. May note Johnson had earlier felony convictions – for robbery in 2009 and auto theft and resisting law enforcement in 2005.
“We conclude there is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, Johnson had the status of a habitual offender,” the decision states.
Johnson, Tiffani Cox, 31, and Kyra Frost, 26, went to an apartment in the Riverside Villa complex to take back a $10,000 Prada purse Johnson believed was taken from him, according to court documents.
Johnson killed Feldstein and Adams and shot at Amberly Brown, but missed. A Noble Superior Court judge sentenced him in January to 170 years behind bars.
Cox pleaded guilty in October to aiding attempted robbery and was ordered to spend eight years of a 14-year sentence in prison. Frost will be sentenced Sept. 5 on two charges of assisting a criminal.
Johnson says in an appeal he was “in a drug-fueled rage” and the events in the apartment were chaotic.
But the appeals court ruled he had time to calm down, noting Johnson drove from Fort Wayne to Ligonier – a distance of more than 30 miles.
“Even after a relatively long drive afforded Johnson an opportunity to gather his thoughts, he rushed into the apartment and brandished a gun,” the judges wrote. “It was Johnson who created a chaotic atmosphere.”