It was a frustrating day for the family of murdered Payson resident Mitch Gingry, as Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Charles Johnson to 20 years in prison for stabbing Gingry more than 30 times. Johnson also was sentenced to 3.5 years for the assault of his girlfriend, 54-year-old Laura Hansen. Both sentences are to run consecutively, totalling 23.5 years in prison.
The body of 36-year-old Gingry was discovered in May 2002, dumped in the desert off Highway 87 in Maricopa County. The Payson Police Department and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office determined Johnson had murdered Gingry at his home in Payson Ranchos and dumped his body on the way to Phoenix, where Johnson was later apprehended.
Judge Peter Cahill accepted a plea agreement in August, in which Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and no contest to the aggravated assault. Cahill sentenced Johnson to the maximum term due to the heinous nature of the murder.
"This crime was committed in a cruel and depraved manner -- with gratuitous violence," Cahill said. "The ultimate disrespect being that you took his body and left it in the desert. An aggravated term is justified here."
Prior to making his decision to accept the plea, Cahill heard from the victim's family.
Two of Gingry's daughters tearfully addressed Cahill.
"Twenty years is not good enough," Gingry's 19-year-old daughter said. "He killed my dad and this man will walk the streets in 23.5 years. He should not be allowed to walk the streets again."
Cahill asked to see a picture of Gingry as his family spoke, putting a face to the murder victim.Gingry's 17-year-old daughter had an even more difficult time composing herself.
"I cry every day," she said. "I'm scared that if he gets out he might come after us. I want to know why he did it. My dad never did anything wrong."
Cahill tried to explain to Gingry's family that, while they might think 23.5 years is not justice for them, going to trial has the potential to result in a less severe outcome for Johnson.
"If this case were to go to trial, Mr. Johnson could claim he is innocent," Cahill said. "Our system only requires reasonable doubt. The state must convince every single person on that jury that he is guilty. Rather than risk that a guilty man go free, the county attorney said it would be better to have this man serve 20 years."
County Attorney Daisy Flores also addressed the benefit of the plea agreement, saying that the state's main witness, Hansen, is not in good health and may not be available for a trial.
Hansen was not present during sentencing, and has not been at Johnson's prior court appearances.
"The defendant's health is not good," Flores said. "He may not make it out of prison. He'll be 75 years old when he is released if he makes it."
Before Cahill imposed the sentence, he asked Johnson if he wanted to speak.
"I am sorry to (Gingry's family). I'm sorry about Mitch," Johnson said. "We will all go to God and stand trial before him."
"I hope you use your time in custody constructively," Cahill said. "It is my hope that every single day, you remember the unfathomable harm you've done."