State of Missouri, Respondent, v. Alis B. Johns

Supreme Court Case Number: SC81479

Audio: Oral argument on appeal to Missouri Supreme Court
Text: Missouri Supreme Court Opinion

Case Facts: Alis Johns began spending time with Thomas Stewart in the spring of 1996. Both men traveled in the same circles and spent considerable time drinking alcohol together. On the night of October 1, 1996, Johns accepted a ride from Stewart’s girlfriend, Deborah Tedder. Stewart, who had been fighting with Tedder earlier in the day, followed in his truck and eventually confronted Johns and Tedder on rural Highway KK in Pulaski County. All three individuals were intoxicated. The confrontation became violent, and two of Tedder’s car windows were shattered. At some point, Johns exited the automobile with a .22 caliber pistol. Johns shot Stewart seven times, killing him.

At 10:00 p.m., Robert and Christina Deardeuff passed by the scene while returning home from a family gathering. They saw Stewart’s gray Chevrolet truck stopped in the northbound lane with a small white car in close proximity. Robert also noticed a man lying face down between the automobile and the truck. As they approached the second vehicle, Robert slowed down to offer his assistance. But Johns admonished them several times, “Everything’s all right — just go on.” After the Deardeuffs left the scene, Johns and Tedder fled in Tedder’s car.

Approximately one hour later, Kristine Brockes came upon Stewart’s truck while returning from her job at Ft. Leonard Wood. She found Stewart’s body lying face down behind the truck and called the police. Paramedics and law enforcement officers arrived shortly thereafter. Though police were unable to find the murder weapon, they did recover seven .22 caliber shell casings, which were resting in close proximity to one another approximately fifteen feet from Stewart’s body. In addition to the shell casings, police found a pile of glass and two spots of blood where Tedder’s car had been parked. The next morning, police found an eighth shell casing that had come to rest within a few feet from where the victim’s body had been.

The police apprehended Tedder the next morning. Tedder indicated that Johns might have been involved in Stewart’s death. While questioning Tedder, the officers noticed two types of damage to Tedder’s car: two shattered windows and a puncture to the left rear quarter that looked like a bullet hole. They also found what appeared to be a splatter of blood on the fender. Local law enforcement began searching for Johns.

Johns had been living on a small farm that was owned by Pearl Rose. When police arrived at the farm, however, Johns was already on the run. The officers searched the premises and recovered several .22 caliber shell casings, which were sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab and compared to shells found at the scene of Stewart’s death. The lab could not confirm that the shells were used in the same gun. But, the lab did identify certain class characteristics of the casings that were consistent with the shells found at the murder scene.

Johns evaded capture for the next six months. During this time, Johns was implicated in two murders and several robberies. On February 7, 1997, Ron Wilson returned to his home to find Johns standing on the front porch with a shotgun that he had just stolen from inside. After firing once into the ceiling and once at Wilson, Johns fled with Wilson’s car, two guns, a hunting knife, and a watch. On February 26, 1997, Johns forcibly entered the home of Bud and Melinda Veverka and held the couple at gunpoint while he warmed himself by the stove. This robbery proved largely unsuccessful, as Johns was only able to steal two dollars, a wallet, and some juice. Though no one was injured in these robberies, Johns’ next victims were less fortunate.

On February 28, 1997, police found Leonard Voyles lying dead in his Camden County home. He died of a single .22 caliber gunshot wound to the head. An inventory of the home revealed that Voyles’ Ford Ranger truck and his .22 caliber rifle were missing. The subsequent police investigation uncovered a shoe print on the property that identically matched Johns’ right boot. In addition, law enforcement officers recovered Johns’ fingerprints from Voyles’ stolen truck, which was found on March 8, 1997. Three miles away, police also found the dead body of Wilma Bragg on March 9, 1997. The investigation revealed that Bragg’s assailant shot her two times in the back of the head while she lay face down on her bed with her hands tied behind her back. DNA testing of a cigarette butt implicated Johns in the murder and impression analysis confirmed that the rifle stolen from Voyles’ home was subsequently used to kill Bragg. Johns left with Bragg’s 1991 Toyota, which was later recovered with the rifle still inside.

During the following weeks, Johns and his girlfriend, Beverly Guehrer, burglarized four additional homes. At each home, Johns left fingerprints or took property that was later found in his possession.

On April 7, 1997, the crime spree came to an end when officers of the Missouri Water Patrol encountered Johns in a cabin while searching Cole Camp Creek in Benton County. As the officers approached the cabin, Johns threw open the door and emerged with Guehrer held in front of him as a human shield. With one arm around Guehrer’s neck and the other aiming a rifle at her head, Johns said, “I’ve got a hostage. I’ll shoot her.” As Johns made a sudden movement to escape, Officer Eric Gottman shot him in the abdomen and placed him under arrest.