Evidence fight halts trial in beauty salon slayings case

The trial of a St. Louis man charged in the 2005 stabbing deaths of three people at a southwestern Illinois beauty salon was unexpectedly stopped Tuesday in a dispute over possible new evidence in the case.

Jury selection was to continue Tuesday for Samuel L. Johnson's trial on murder charges when prosecutors said they wanted an appeals court to review the judge's decision on messages they want to present as evidence during the trial.

Johnson is charged with killing 79-year-old Doris Fischer, 82-year-old Dorothy Bone and 62-year-old hairdresser Michael Cooney at Cooney's home-based salon in Belleville.

The evidence in dispute involves writing that was found Monday on the wall of a holding cell in the courthouse but details about it weren't immediately made public, the Belleville News-Democrat reported .

The 52-year-old Johnson had been arrested days after the killings, but was only charged with an attempted burglary of Cooney's home. Belleville police reinitiated an investigation in 2014 and he was charged in 2016.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent Monday interviewing prospective jurors, but jurors were sent home Tuesday after St. Clair County Associate Judge Julie Gomric issued the ruling on the evidence.

Authorities say Fischer and Bone were at Cooney's salon to get their hair done and the bloody scene was found by Cooney's next scheduled client. Then-Belleville police chief Terry Delaney said he believed Cooney was the intended victim of a rage-driven killing.

Johnson was serving a seven-year sentence in Missouri for gun, drug and other convictions when he was charged in the beauty salon attack. He has denied committing the killings.

"I am innocent," Johnson said during a jail interview this year. "If you get a conviction, you will be convicting an innocent man."

A jury in 2010 acquitted a man — who was 16 years old at the time of the killings — of murder charges in the three deaths. Prosecutors based their case on the man's bloody fingerprint found in the salon owner's stolen vehicle, which was found abandoned in St. Louis a day after the killings.

A witness in that trial testified she saw a man who didn't fit the defendant's description come into the salon and demand money from Cooney.


Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com