The jury in the trial of Justin Davis Johnson didn’t have far to look to visualize one victim’s stark reality.
Ryan Armstrong, a 40-year-old man who lives in the Dallas area, was among those attending the trial in Hood County District Court. But, unlike the others attending, he was sitting in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down after having been shot by Johnson during a Dec. 29, 2011, incident at a hunting lease near Tolar.
Late Friday afternoon, the jury found Johnson, a 39-year-old Lavon resident, guilty of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, in a case that also involved a second victim, Clint Bolsinger of Caddo Mills, who was not injured. The second count was filed because Johnson pointed a weapon at Bolsinger, prosecutors said.
Judge Ralph Walton ruled that the punishment phase was to start Tuesday morning, but their decision was not available by press time. The punishment could range from two years’ probation to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of the two counts.
Armstrong was struck by two bullets from a .380 firearm, according to testimony. The jury saw X-rays of the bullets when they were still lodged in Armstrong’s body – one that ended up in the back of his neck, and the other near his spine.
Hood County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Berry said that although Johnson claimed he shot Armstrong because he felt his life was in danger during a confrontation that may have been fueled by excessive alcohol consumption, deadly force was not warranted.
“You can’t go beyond the scope of what is necessary under the law,” Berry told the jury during the final summation. “The physical evidence is what proves the crime.”
Berry told the jury that Johnson’s blood-alcohol level that night was “well above a 2.0,” but emphasized that intoxication does not constitute a valid defense.
Walton instructed the jury that they had to consider whether Johnson “had reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary,” and that he knowingly or recklessly caused serious bodily injury.
Defense attorneys Phillip Hayes and Scott Palmer of Dallas County argued that Johnson believed the shooting was warranted. Hayes told the jury that Johnson felt fear for his life after Armstrong grabbed him by the neck and he was then “dragged into a cabin.”
“You’re allowed to protect yourself,” Hayes continued.
“He was attacked, he was viciously assaulted,” Palmer said in his summation. “(Johnson) shot him because he had to do it to save himself.”
“He said he was being pummeled, but there are no injuries, other than a tiny abrasion on his ear,” Berry told the jury, which also saw a photo of Armstrong in his hospital bed after he was admitted to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
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