The mother of triple murderer Mauricio Eduardo Johnson was led out of court in handcuffs this morning to begin serving a 364-day jail term for helping her son as he tried to escape.
Judge Christopher Wilson imposed the term on Melissa Johnson-Sanchez, saying she must serve at least 180 days behind bars before she is eligible for SWAP, the program that allows inmates to work out of custody. Johnson-Sanchez will be on supervised probation for two years. If she violates probation she could receive a two-year prison sentence.
Johnson-Sanchez and her boyfriend Von Keener pleaded guilty to the felony of being an accessory after the fact to the February 2021 murders of Margarett Lee Moon and Nikki Metcalf, both 40, along with Margarett Moon’s 16-year-old daughter Shelly Moon. All three were shot in the head.
Margarett Moon lived for several hours after she was shot, leaving her loved ones agonizing over whether she could have been saved had Johnson-Sanchez immediately called law enforcement. Instead she followed her son as he and Keener drove east. All were arrested in Utah.
Four hours after the shootings Margarett Moon’s two younger children awoke to find her, their sister and Metcalf.
“The tragedy of walking in on a triple homicide … they will never be able to forget that,” Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees told the judge. He asked the judge for a two-year prison sentence.
“We want to encourage people to turn in criminals,” Rees said.
Metcalf’s mother Sandra Keisner, weeping as she read her statement, said “I will never know if Margarett could have lived.”
Keisner said Johnson-Sanchez’s actions “are not Wiyot.” If the rancheria had a legal system in place, “Melissa and her family would be banished from the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria.”
Another family member, Jewel Frank, called the killings the worst crime ever committed in Humboldt County.
“I think (Margarett Moon) lived four hours while Melissa was trying to help her son escape the consequences,” Frank said. She suggested Johnson-Sanchez should be charged with other crimes, such as cruelty to Margarett Moon’s younger children.
“She made the decision to help her son escape the darkness of his evil actions,” Frank said.
Johnson-Sanchez, who had been out of custody until today, stood silently beside defense attorney Kathleen Bryson and did not make a statement. But Bryson said Johnson-Sanchez, who has no criminal history, is extremely remorseful.
“Sending her to jail is not going to bring back their loved ones,” Bryson said, calling the matter “a horrible case.”
Johnson-Sanchez has said she didn’t know until she pulled over to buy gasoline in Redding that her son was running from a suspected triple murder. Still, she continued to follow him as he fled.
“The right thing would have been to report it, and that didn’t happen,” Judge Wilson said. But he also said Johnson-Sanchez’s role was “collateral,” and her plea to being an accessory was appropriate. Both the judge and the victims’ family members expressed skepticism over what she knew or didn’t know.
On the other hand, Wilson said, it’s impossible to prove Sanchez-Johnson didn’t believe all three victims were already dead.
“What does a mother do under these circumstances?” the judge asked. “She wanted to protect her child.”
Wilson expressed sympathy to the survivors, saying their grief is palpable and their wounds will heal slowly, if ever.
Mauricio Johnson was sentenced in February to six terms of 25 years to life — one term for each victim and three terms for personal use of a knife. He was 18 when he killed the three, so under California’s Youthful Offender Program he can apply for parole in 25 years.
As of today he is an inmate at Corcoran State Prison.
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