After weeks of witness testimony and days of jury deliberation, Chad Johnson stood stoically in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead Monday afternoon, staring at the floor as a jury found him guilty of the 2010 murder of Jennifer Papain. The verdict comes nearly two years after Johnson led police to the Patchogue woman’s body.
Johnson, 23, was convicted of second-degree murder, patronizing a prostitute and unlicensed operation of a vehicle.
Although later pleading not guilty to the murder, Johnson had admitted to police in 2010 that he strangled the 26-year-old woman in a Bay Shore church parking lot, after hiring her on Craigslist for sex in March 2010.
After giving a written confession, Johnson brought detectives to Papain’s body, buried in the woods just off the Long Island Expressway, down the block from the Medford home he shared with his girlfriend. These same detectives, who had previously testified on behalf of the prosecution, quietly came in as the jury entered the courtroom and left after hearing the guilty verdict.
Johnson had turned down a deal from prosecutor Todd Pettigrew last week in which he would plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a 24-year prison term. Now that Johnson is convicted of the original charge, he will face a sentence of 25 years to life in prison at his sentencing on January 5, 2012.
Johnson’s defense attorney, William Ferris, had argued Johnson’s nine-page confession to police, in which he admitted to strangling Papain after she wouldn’t give him a partial refund of $40 and dumping her body, was coerced by detectives.
Ferris said Johnson did not kill Papain, but that she died of a drug overdose while she was with Johnson, who was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, panicked and disposed of her body while high on drugs.
In his written statement to police, Johnson said that he wanted more than the 30 minutes he paid for with Papain, and that she stopped “before he was finished.” After arguing over the partial refund, Johnson said he grabbed Papain’s neck.
“I started choking her with two hands and I forced her head against the passenger side of the front window,” Johnson’s statement reads. “I kept choking her until she went limp and then I freaked out.”
After he put Papain’s body in the back seat of his girlfriend’s car, which he was driving at the time, Johnson said he walked to his friend’s house next door to buy $25 worth of marijuana and got high and then dumped Papain’s body in broad daylight when traffic cleared.
Johnson married his girlfriend while awaiting trial in prison. She was not in the courtroom to hear Monday’s guilty verdict.
Johnson had also been charged with possession of marijuana, but the jury did not give a verdict on that count. The charge will be addressed by Judge Gary Weber at the January sentencing.