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Cell mate: Teen admitted killing parents

Emanuella Grinberg
Court TV

Sarah Johnson
Court TV:  Case coverageexternal link

BOISE, Idaho (Court TV) -- With the slip of a tongue, a teenage girl admitted to brutally gunning down her parents in their bedroom, according to an inmate who shared a jail cell with her.

Convicted felon Malinda Gonzales told jurors Wednesday that Sarah Johnson talked freely while she awaited trial on charges of first-degree murder for her parents' deaths.

"I would ask her questions over and over again," Gonzales said. "One time, she said, 'When I killed ...'." Then she stopped herself and was like, 'When the killers ...'."

"What did she say to that?" Blaine County prosecutor Jim Thomas asked.

"She just looked at me, and I was like, 'Don't worry, I'm not going to rat on you,'" Gonzales said. "I didn't think I would."

More than a year later, the two "bunkies" were reunited in Ada County Courthouse Wednesday, where prosecutors are arguing that Sarah killed her parents, Diane and Alan Johnson, because they disapproved of her Mexican boyfriend.

Johnson faces life in prison if convicted.

Gonzales and several other witnesses who spent time in custody with Sarah testified that she freely volunteered details about her rocky relationship with her parents -- particularly her mother -- and of her acrimonious relationship with relatives in the wake of the murders.

But for all Sarah's talk, each witness -- except Gonzales -- conceded that the defendant never admitted to killing her parents on September 2, 2003.

"She said she'd have knock-down, drag-out fights with her mom because she favored her brother and would give him anything," Gonzales said.

Members of Sarah's family in court, including her brother, Matt, winced as the five-time convicted drug trafficker offered her blunt assessments on the witness stand.

"But she loved her dad; she was a daddy's girl. She said her father had changed the life insurance and she was going to get everything because her brother was not really his kid," Gonzales said.

Sarah, now 18, has been in custody since October 31, 2003, when she was arrested almost two months after the murders.

One of her former inmates said Sarah claimed her brother Matt refused to post her bond, even though he had the means to do so.

"She pretty much despised him because after the murders, he spent the insurance claims on a [Chevy] Suburban and a house and getting married, while she was in jail," said Autumn Fisher, who spent 16 days in jail with Sarah.

Novetta Hartmann, who spent 10 days with Sarah, said things were not much better with her aunts and uncles.

"She talked about how her family had kind of dismissed her and when she was living [with them], they tapped her phone and conned her into going to the burial so they could arrest her," Hartmann told jurors.

"She talked a lot about the insurance money and about taking her guardian, Pat, on a cruise to Mexico or something," she said.

The guardian, Pat Alder, blew Sarah a kiss from the witness stand Wednesday, and was dismissed quickly when she refused to answer prosecutors' questions.

Hartmann testified that her parents seemed to be the least of Sarah's concerns when she was in prison.

"She was upset a couple times because she went to court and it wasn't on TV. She would say, 'It should be on TV,'" Hartmann said. "When the case was going, she was upset she couldn't wear regular clothes, had to wear her oranges."

Each day before court, when Sarah arrives to the Ada County Courthouse from the county jail, a member of the defense team provides her with business-casual attire, jewelry and make-up. Her hair is always neatly coiffed.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case this week. The trial is being aired live on Court TV.

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