Will media and politics play a part in a Utah sex-crimes case? Lonnie Johnson, 38, who has been convicted of raping a teenager and still faces 20 new child sex abuse counts, was released from custody yesterday when Judge James Taylor said he has no legal basis to hold Johnson, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. The judge had found Johnson was incompetent to stand trial, with no likelihood of restoration, based on doctors' reports.
Last week, a different judge declined to impose a civil commitment, saying he found Johnson wasn't a danger to the community. Prosecutor Craig Johnson believes the defendant is a threat to society. He said intense media interest in the case could help mitigate that. “I feel there's been enough coverage that I suspect people will have their eye on him,” he said. The coverage includes a Tuesday broadcast of “Nancy Grace” in which viewers were encouraged to call Taylor. Court spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said the show resulted in 100 voice messages from people in 20 states. No one uttered threats, but Volmer characterized the calls as “harassing.” Gov. Gary Herbert said he was “outraged” that Johnson was being released without a trial.