I promised in my last blog that this would be different than some of the more recent ones I posted. I feel as if lately I have done several cases about women who used arsenic as their murder weapon. The only things that Shonda Johnson has in common with those women is that she was involved in the killing of one of her husbands. Unlike those women it appears Shonda did not think things through and she was quickly apprehended after the murder occurred. Of course many of those previous cases took place decades ago. I would hope that much has changed since then and if Shonda had used arsenic like those women she would not get away with it for as long as those women were able to. But, also one of the biggest things that have changed over the decades is how society looks a women when it comes to them being involved in murders. I am sure there are still some who believe that women are not inherently evil and have issues with sentencing a woman to death, but thankfully that is not as widespread of an idea as it once was.
Something that I found interesting about this case was the continued reference to Shonda Johnson's appearance. It was often said that her allure to men was confusing to most. There were references to the fact that she had crooked teeth to the point she would not smile often and the references to her hair, style and color. It is not often that you see me describe someone in my blogs beyond their gender. Unless it is necessary to the story, I often do not mention the race of the victim or the perpetrator. But, here it was reference in nearly every article I read to the point that I felt it should be at least mentioned. I believe this was mentioned as often as it was for two reasons. First, the writer wanted the reader to know that Shonda Johnson, who would be married five times before the age of twenty-eight and have multiple affairs was not a Goddess of any sort. She was not going to be seen walking down the runway at a fashion show any time in the near future. Secondly, I think it was the writer's attempt to ask their reader to explain to them, the writer, just how this happened. Initially the references annoyed me because they seemed to focus on her looks and not her behavior. As time went on it began to amuse me because it seemed that no one understood the attraction.
It is not just that Shonda Johnson had been married so many times, or that she allegedly convinced her last husband to kill her third husband that brought this case attention. It was also the fact that at one point Shonda was allegedly married to three men at once, and that technically was not the first time she had been married to more than one man at a time. Shonda was married to her first husband, Jeff Nelson for about six years. It is unclear how many of those six years were spent together but they did have a son together. At some point it was revealed that Nelson had file two reports against Shonda saying she had tried to kill him but apparently no charges were filed. Maybe my idea that people have evolved in their thinking of women is not as advanced as thought.
It seems that Shonda would wait for her divorce to be final before she married her next husband Jimmy Tidwell. That marriage, or at least the relationship would only last about five months. Shonda must have hated that wait to move on because before that divorce was final she married Randy McCullar on June 24, 1995. They apparently had a big outdoor wedding but it seems Randy became aware that Shonda's divorce from Tidwell was not final. The way the story was told it was indicated that he may have only found out at the last minute and talked to the minister just before the ceremony was conducted. The minister supposedly told him they would continue in performing the marriage but when the divorce was final (it apparently had been filed) the couple could come see him and he would do something private and marry them legally. It appears that the following month the couple legally obtained a marriage license and remarried. But, as with her last marriage, this one only seemed to last a few months before Shonda was gone.
During this time it was said that Shonda was working at a sleeping bag factory and it was one of the few jobs she ever had in her life. It was there that she met William McIntyre Jr. She would marry him on September 29, 1995, not just before a divorce from McCullar was final, but before it was even filed. On top of this she was now pregnant. It was alleged to be Randy McCullar's child but it is unclear just how aware he was of the pregnancy. When she gave birth to another son it was McIntyre who was in the delivery room and it appears the child was even given the McIntyre name. Amazingly it appears she remained with McIntyre for nearly a year until August 2, 1996. A specific date of their split is allegedly known because this is the date that William McIntyre was diagnosed with AIDS and said to be the very last day the couple lived together. Shonda was gone immediately but of course she was not alone long.
Soon she was living with a man named Ronnie Webb and once again she would become pregnant. Surprisingly it does not appear that she married Webb, although I cannot say she did not plan to. Their relationship began in September of 1996. By this time it appears that things were beginning to catch up to her. The following month a warrant was taken out on her charging her with bigamy. Ronnie Webb would later testify that Shonda had attempted to have him kill McCullar for her but he had refused. Webb would not be the only man to claim this. They would all claim McCullar had raped and beaten her throughout their relationship.
The relationship between Shonda and Ronnie Webb would not last... surprise, surprise … and soon she was moving on. Once again she was pregnant and once again she was not divorced (from McCullar or McIntyre) when she married Timothy Richards on May 10, 1997. Despite living in Alabama she had insisted that they go to Gatlinburg Tennessee to be married. Few believe her reasoning had little to do with the atmosphere and scenery but more with Tennessee's reputation of marriage records. The bigamy charges were apparently still pending and they had come about because Randy McCullar had testified to a grand jury. Because of that testimony prosecutors were later able to charge Shonda with capital murder upon his death.
On November 6, 1997 Randy McCullar finally filed for divorce (I can only assume that he had waiting due to the bigamy charges) and had also filed for a DNA test on the child that was allegedly his. Pending those results McCullar was also asking for custody of his son. Throughout all of this Jeff Nelson, Shonda's first husband had filed and won custody of the son they shared together. Presumably Shonda had custody of the son she had given birth to after her marriage to Richards, allegedly the son of Ronnie Webb. But, hold your pants because by November of 1997 Shonda was pregnant again, this time allegedly by Tim Richards.
On the early morning hours on a fairly low traveled road on November 30, 1997 a man driving to work saw a car pulled over in a church parking lot in Jasper Alabama. He stopped apparently to see if he could help and saw a man laying on the ground. According to the bystander it seemed pretty apparent that the man was dead by the bullet hole to his head, but he checked for a pulse to be sure. He then contacted the police. Authorities would identify the man as Randy McCullar.
Of course investigators quickly made their way to Shonda to question her. She denied involvement but they were not buying it and pressed her. Part of the reason they did not believe her was not just her association and issues with McCullar but also because she kept changing her story. In her last version to the police she would admit to being in the car when Randy McCullar was shot but said it was all Tim Richards idea and he had done everything. For his part Tim Richards also denied being involved, right up until he was shown a tape of Shonda telling investigators her last story.
Putting their stories together and using deductive reasoning prosecutors determined that Shonda had been trying to recruit people to kill Randy McCullar for up to a year prior to his murder. Tim Richards just happened to agree to do it. On the night of the murder the couple had retained a babysitter and went looking for McCullar. They found his car outside a bar where Tim Richards would puncture one of the tires. They then allegedly waited for him to emerge from the bar and head home, which they knew would be down this low traveled road. When McCullar pulled over in the church parking lot Tim and Shonda pulled in also. Shonda would hand Tim a rifle and he would then shoot McCullar. The couple left the area and sometime later threw the gun over a bridge and into the river.
To avoid the death penalty Tim Richard agreed to plead guilty and testify against Shonda. He would be given a life sentence for his cooperation. Since by now bigamy charges were the least of Shonda's problems she would plead guilty to those before going on trial for murder. Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty because she had been involved and orchestrated the murder of a grand jury witness. Ronnie Webb and another man named David Prescott, said to be another ex-boyfriend, testified that she had asked them to murder McCullar for her. Tim Richards' sister would testify that two nights before the murder, while celebrating Thanksgiving, the couple had eluded to things about McCullar, enough that Tim's sister warned him about doing “anything stupid.” It is not completely clear but it appears that Shonda's only real defense was to attempt to continue to put everything on Tim Richards. The jury did not buy it and Shonda was convicted. Additionally, by a vote of 11-1 they voted that she be put to death for her actions. On October 22, 1999 the judge complied and sent Shonda to Alabama's death row.
Now, when I first began reading an appeal that was filed in 2006, at least the second in this case, it referred to the fact that a previous appeal had reversed her conviction and she had been ordered a new trial, and I assumed that reversal was based on the jury not being unanimous. Most states require that but apparently Alabama is not one of them. Instead a court had reversed the conviction saying that the jury was not given “limiting instructions” when it spoke of her “prior bad acts.” The state had appealed this and in 2006 the courts agreed with them and reinstated her conviction and death sentence. The initial and apparently this appeal had argued that any of her prior acts, including the crime of bigamy should not have been entered in the trial and had prejudiced the jury. The first appeals court decision did not say the “bad acts” should not have been entered but basically that the jury should have been told they did not have to give as much weight to them. Not only do I disagree with the defense attorneys but also the first court. Now, while I cannot say what other “bad acts” were presented to the jury but the bigamy alone had every right to be presented. It is reasonable to believe that had Randy McCullar not been instrumental in having bigamy charges brought against her she would not have advocated for his death. I also take exception to courts that think they need to tell jurors what they should and should not think about when the courts have allowed evidence in.
By the time of her conviction she had given birth to four boys. It was said that they all resided with their father's or the father's family except for the last child that presumably Tim Richards had fathered. That child was being raised by Shonda's mother who was quoted as saying “She's not a bigamist. She didn't kill nobody.” Ok... if you say so Mom.
Tim Richards kept things going for quite some time himself. In 2008 he allegedly attempted to recant his confession. He would claim that his lawyer had pushed him to give a false confession and that he was not involved in McCullar's murder at all. His former lawyer denied those claims, and the court has seemingly rejected them. Aside from that little bit of rebellion though Tim had a very clean record in prison for quite some time. In fact, investigators believed that when he went up for parole in May of 2013, his first attempt, he would get it. Many had said they believe that Tim Richards would have never gotten in trouble in his life if he had not met Shonda Johnson. In 2010 Tim was moved to minimal security prison. The state had allowed his move due to being within three years of likely being granted parole and the fact that he had no disciplinary problems while in prison. Then in the early morning of Sunday, April 8, 2012 it was discovered that Tim Richards was missing from his cell during a head count. A man hunt was issued and he was being pursued but he obviously had a head start. He was found on Wednesday the 11th at a home in Ohio. The only real information I found was that it was believed he had help escaping prison but no names were mentioned. It was also said that security laws would change on how they handled things and allowing convicted murderers in low security facilities. I never found anything else despite the likelihood that he got time added on for his escape and did not get parole in 2013. The Alabama Department of Corrections website does not list him today though so it seems he has been released since that time.
Alabama seems to be consistent in their executions. They conducted three in 2017 but they have not executed a woman since 2002. Everything that I came across indicated that Shonda Johnson remains on death row. There was an article that stated as of 2012 she was one of four women on death row. As a last minute check on things here I was checking how often Alabama has utilized the death penalty. Falling into what I call the rabbit hole moving from one site to another I found the official list of death row inmates in Alabama through their Department of Corrections. I had already been there when I did my original research as I normally do to check on the status of inmates. I had found Shonda's page and while the DOC of Alabama does not give as much detailed information as some do, it gave more than a few that I have seen. It stated she has absolutely no parole date, she has not earned any sort of good credit, and under term it states “999 Y 99M 9 D.” I assumed this was their way of saying “death.” However, on their list of death row inmates it states there are five women there. As I continually scrolled through page after page I finally found those five “clumped” together and Shonda's name was not on it. To double check things I went back to her particular page as well as attempted a new search to determine her status. It appears that either her case is pending or she has been re-sentenced to life. While it does appear she is housed at the same prison, Tutwiler, as the five women on death row two things indicate show me that she is not in the area where the death row inmates are found. First under the women that are listed on death row the institution is listed as “Tutwiler Death Row” while Shonda's is simply listed as “Tutwiler.” Secondly, while Shonda's term says “999 Y” the woman listed on death row show “0 Y.” I believe this is the first time I have come across something like this. It took several more tries with different wording to see what I could find out about this. The only reference to this is on the CNCpunishment.com site in which the last entry says that she was sentenced to life without parole in 2014. There is a link provided but when I clicked on it I was directed to another inmate, not Shonda. And yet every other link, even past 2014 continues to state she is on death row. I would not normally just rely on that one site stating the change of sentence in 2014, however, combined with everything else I have found I feel as if it is probably correct. Continuing down my rabbit hole I was able to determine that when someone is sentenced to life “without parole” in Alabama it means there is no chance to ever get out and they will spend their natural life in prison.
In the end if this case as taught me anything it is that in some cases I need to dig a bit deeper than I normally do. Sometimes a small search to answer a nagging question leads to more questions and more discoveries.