Texas felon gets life in prison in brutal sledgehammer killing of Waco cousin

Jurors deliberated about 20 minutes before deciding that David Earl Johnson (right) should...
Jurors deliberated about 20 minutes before deciding that David Earl Johnson (right) should spend the rest of his life in prison for the beating death of Michael Washington (left).(Photos: Tommy Witherspoon for KWTX)
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 12:35 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A six-time convicted felon who served time for multiple assaults was sentenced to life in prison Thursday in the beating death of his cousin in Waco.

Jurors in Waco’s 19th State District Court deliberated about 20 minutes Thursday before deciding that David Earl Johnson should spend the rest of his life in prison in the February 2020 beating death of Michael Washington, 58, at Washington’s residence on East Calhoun Street.

The jury of nine women and three men convicted Johnson of murder after deliberating about three hours Wednesday. As a habitual criminal, Johnson faced a minimum of 25 years in prison.

Johnson, 57, must serve a minimum of 30 years in prison before he can be considered for parole.

Waco police testified they found Washington’s badly beaten body wrapped in a comforter and lying on the floor in a back room of his house after Johnson called 911 and reported he and his cousin “had an incident.”

Trial testimony showed Johnson bludgeoned the back of his cousin’s head with a 3-pound sledgehammer at least seven times, with a number of those blows coming after Johnson wrapped the upper portion of Washington’s body in the comforter.

In his report to 911, Johnson said Washington threatened him with the sledgehammer first before he took it from him and hit him in the head. He claimed self-defense, although he did not testify during either phase of the trial.

After Judge Thomas West sentenced Johnson, two of Washington’s five sisters gave emotional victim-impact statements.

Michael Washington (far left) with his sisters and other relatives.
Michael Washington (far left) with his sisters and other relatives.(Courtesy Photo)

“I forgive you, but I will never forget you, and I hope God will have mercy on your soul,” said Valarie Crane Sanders.

Vanessa Lee, another of Washington’s sisters, said she drives by his former home every day because she misses him so much.

“I didn’t know you, but my brother spoke of you. My brother loved you,” Lee said. “I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago. I hope you have time to think and hope you have accepted God in your life.”

In closing statements Thursday, prosecutor Kristi DeCluitt recounted Johnson’s long list of felony convictions, which includes shooting a neighbor four times with a shotgun, breaking a Fort Worth police officer’s ribs by throwing a claw hammer at him and assaulting another inmate while in prison.

“Mr. Washington’s family and I are extremely grateful for the jury’s verdict and sentence,” DeCluitt said. “They had a very tough job to do and by their life sentence have ensured that Mr. Johnson will no longer be a danger to the people of McLennan County.”

Defense attorney Melanie Walker also said she appreciated the hard work of the jury.

“I know they considered the evidence carefully,” Walker said. “The forgiveness from the sisters of the victim was very powerful, and Mr. Johnson will always have that.”

Sanders said after the trial that a large group of Washington’s family and friends are getting together this weekend to honor the memory of her brother, a former butcher and construction worker. They are calling the gathering “Justice for Michael,” she said.

Johnson, a Fort Worth resident on parole until 2026 in the shooting of his Waco neighbor in 2000, told police he had been living with Washington in East Waco for about a month before he killed him. Officers testified they think Washington had been dead at least eight hours before Johnson called 911, giving him time to clean himself and the crime scene and to change clothes.

Johnson was sentenced to a total of 77.5 years in prison on his six previous convictions, including a federal term for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.

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