Douglas Vernon Johnson, the 42-year-old Army veteran sentenced to 74 years in prison for shooting and injuring two Sheriff’s Office deputies on Christmas Eve 2017, has once again appealed his convictions and sentencing.
On Dec. 24, 2017, three deputies responded to a domestic dispute call at Johnson’s Sterling residence involving Johnson and his then-19-year-old daughter. After determining that Johnson was the primary aggressor, the deputies began to arrest him. At that point, Johnson jumped into his closet, grabbed a.45-caliber handgun and fired it three times, striking one of the deputies in his arm and both legs and the other deputy in her leg as they attempted to subdue him.
Following a six-day trial in August 2018, a unanimous 12-person jury convicted Johnson on two counts of attempted capital murder, along with nine other felonies, and sentenced him to a total of 74 years in prison.
In February 2020, Johnson’s defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky filed a motion requesting the court throw out the jury’s verdict and initiate a new trial. In his motion, Ungvarsky wrote that all 12 jurors in the trial were white and that the court excused the only prospective Black juror because he was previously convicted of a misdemeanor DWI 8.
The Loudoun NAACP at the time called for “justice to be served” in Johnson’s case and pushed for his sentences to run concurrently, rather than consecutively, with no more than 20 years of active time served. The NAACP also sought Johnson’s sentence to be served in an in-person mental health facility, rather than a prison, because Johnson has PTSD after serving two tours of duty in Iraq.
Loudoun Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher in October 2020 denied Ungvarsky’s motion.
This week, Ungvarsky filed an appeal with the Virginia Court of Appeals seeking a new trial in Johnson’s case, citing “multiple inequities and misapplications of the law” during Johnson’s jury trial and sentencing a year and a half ago.
Ungvarsky noted in a March 1 statement that Fisher excluded Johnson’s insanity defense during the trial, let prosecutors “force an all-white jury to decide Mr. Johnson’s fate for a cross-racial shooting of police officers” and barred Johnson’s family, friends and NAACP members attending from the sentencing hearing, which, Ungvarsky asserted, violated Johnson’s right to a public trial.
Ungvarsky wrote that Fisher’s exclusion of those defenses showed “a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Ungvarsky wrote in his statement this week that Johnson suffers from PTSD and depression, and bolstered that claim by noting that a forensic psychologist opined that Johnson reached for his gun during the Dec. 24, 2017, altercation because he was attempting to take his own life.
“[T]he trial judge misapplied Virginia law and Rules of Evidence and barred Mr. Johnson from presenting an insanity defense and corroboration testimony about his mental illness and attempt to commit suicide during his trial,” Ungvarsky wrote.