Crime

Wiggins man accused of decapitating mom with butter knife, teeth may get her life insurance money

The Wiggins man accused of cutting off his mother’s head with a butter knife and his teeth could receive the proceeds of her $150,000 life insurance policy and inherit her estate, court records show.

Sherry L. Johnson’s only child, 30-year-old Terelle A. Johnson, is accused of killing her in June 2018 at their Wiggins home after an argument over credit cards.

One of her brothers, Florida resident Zanuel Johnson, has been named administrator of her estate, which is being probated in Stone County Chancery Court. Judge Carter Bise will decide how the insurance and estate money should be distributed only after Terelle Johnson’s mental competency to stand trial for first degree murder is determined, an order he signed said.

Sherry Johnson did not have a will. Terelle Johnson was the only beneficiary listed on the 51-year-old Hattiesburg High School guidance counselor’s life insurance policy.

Alfa Life Insurance Corp. has deposited the payout from her policy with the Chancery Court until the rightful beneficiary is established. Money from the sale of Johnson’s cars and house, which is being repaired, will also be deposited into an estate account, court records show.

Unless Johnson “willfully” killed his mother, he could under state law inherit her estate and be awarded the insurance proceeds.

Is he insane?

Johnson confessed within hours of the murder, according to Stone County Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Boggs. Boggs said during a preliminary hearing last year in the case that Johnson admitted beating up his mom “real bad.” Johnson then used a butter knife from her bedside to cut off her head, finishing the job with his teeth.

“He said it got out of hand,” Boggs testified.

Her body and head were found on property surrounding her tidy brick home on Johnson Road.

Insanity could be Johnson’s defense, his Gulfport attorney Jim Davis indicates in court filings in the estate case. Davis said in court records that Johnson does not object to the money being held in trust until the murder case is resolved. In addition to representing Johnson in the criminal case, Davis is serving as Johnson’s guardian in the estate case.

If Johnson is convicted of first-degree murder, he will not collect the money because the charge involves a willful or premeditated killing. However, an insanity defense, or a conviction or guilty plea to manslaughter, means under state law that the killing was not willful and Johnson could collect the money.

Davis has not settled on a defense.

“We’re still in the early stages,” he told the Sun Herald, “but there are a lot of mental health records in this case that would make it very easy to establish a lack-of-mental-capacity defense.”

A lack of mental capacity could lead to a not-guilty verdict or a finding of manslaughter, Davis said.

Davis said in court filings that Johnson’s “delusional history” dates to his earlier days in the military.

A psychiatrist has examined Johnson for the defense. Her full evaluation is sealed in the court file, but Davis quotes her in one of his motions in the estate case:

Sarah DeLand, a New Orleans psychiatrist, concluded:

“Regarding his competency to proceed, it is my opinion with reasonable medical certainty that due to his mental illness Mr. Johnson does not have the ability to perceive or to understand the nature of the proceedings, to communicate rationally with his attorney, to recall relevant facts and to testify in his own defense.

“His thought disorganization prevents him from being able to testify relevantly or be cross-examined. He cannot focus on the topic and he has problems with his perception of reality. It is my recommendation to the court that Mr. Johnson be found not competent to proceed and hospitalized for inpatient competency restoration.”

A troubled history

Johnson also has a history of hospitalizations for mental problems and of violent disputes with his mother, records from court and the Stone County Sheriff’s Office show.

He was arrested three times in 2015 on multiple misdemeanor charges — domestic violence, assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and marijuana possession — after his mother called deputies for help. He also was charged with assault on a police officer in one incident.

The first time officers were called, Johnson had gotten mad when his mother told him to turn off the TV, an incident report says.

He balled his hands into fists and asked, “What you goin’ to do?” Fearful, his mother summoned help. Deputies tried to calm him, the offense report says, but wound up stunning him with a Taser after he charged them. Once shocked, he was handcuffed and taken to jail.

Four days later, deputies were back. Sherry Johnson reported that she and her son were talking in the kitchen when he grew “belligerent,” an incident report says. Her son threw her a distance of 7 to 8 feet out the back door and into the yard, injuring her right arm. She called deputies and fled to her mother’s house next door.

Johnson fought deputies trying to handcuff him, the report says. They used a stun gun four times, then hit Johnson with a baton before they were able to subdue him and, once again, take him to jail.

He was in Stone County jail on June 29, 2015, when another inmate held on federal charges claims he was attacked by Johnson. The inmate, Jaron Stubbs, claims in a lawsuit that Johnson attacked, bit off Stubbs’ nose and part of his lips.

Stubbs is representing himself in the civil lawsuit. He is seeking a total $1.4 million in damages from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Stone County Correctional Facility Authority. Stubbs said he has had more than one plastic surgery while incarcerated and will need more surgery because he is still disfigured.

He was transferred to jail in Pearl, Mississippi, after his first surgery, then moved to Louisiana after sentencing in his federal case.

Johnson was free and in his mother’s house in November 2015, when she once again called deputies for help.

Sherry Johnson said that she was resting in bed when her son came in and threatened her, the incident report says, “cussing her out about his credit cards and her cars.”

“She asked him to get out of her room but he got even more erratic and belligerent,” a report on the incident says. “Terelle was threatening to hurt her and told her he was warning her. She told him she was not going to give him her keys nor her credit cards.

“Terelle stated this his (sic) house. Terelle is very violent. He was going through her things looking for keys.”

The report says he was arrested again for domestic violence but also that a deputy gave Johnson a ride to a friend’s house for the night “until things calmed down.”

The last time deputies showed up at the Johnson home, relatives requested a welfare check because they had not seen or heard from Sherry Johnson in several days. Terelle Johnson at first claimed his mother had gone on a cruise with a friend.

Knowing him well, deputies searched the house. Boggs said the walls and bed in Sherry Johnson’s bedroom were covered with blood. Her headless body lay under a tree, her head over the fence.

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