For more than three years, the town of Globe, Arizona has been torn by controversy. On September 18, 2010, Robert Verdugo stabbed 25-year-old Scott Johnson to death. The case raised questions about Arizona’s “stand your ground” and self-defense statutes.
Prosecutors initially determined Verdugo was defending himself against Johnson, and they declined to bring charges. Johnson’s mother and friends continued to insist on action. Now Globe has a new County Attorney, Bradley Beauchamp, who took another look at the case and sent it to the grand jury. Verdugo has now been indicted for manslaughter, and is being held on $500,000 bond.
Shortly after the initial disposition of the case, Phoenix Channel ABC15 requested all the records and videotape from the investigation, and they also raised the question of whether there should have been charges.
The night he was killed, Scott Johnson had been out drinking. He stopped over at the house of two women he had known in high school. Their roommate, Robert Verdugo, came to the door. Verdugo ordered Johnson to leave, and the two started to argue.
The two women called 911. In the recording of the call, one of them is heard saying, “They’re fighting. Can you get someone out here, please?”
Responding officers found Scott Johnson in the street, sprawled in a pool of blood. Verdugo was kneeling by him, trying to staunch the blood with a t-shirt.
Former Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores declined to bring charges. She told ABC15:
I believe he acted in self-defense. You don’t have a duty to retreat in Arizona. He reasonably believed that deadly physical force was necessary to protect himself.
At the scene, investigating officers asked Verdugo a leading question, “Did you feel threatened?”
In the video of his statement to police, Verdugo claimed Johnson ran toward him and hit him in the head, knocking him down. Verdugo said he then ran into the house and picked up a six-inch hunting knife. However, Verdugo had not suffered any apparent injury. Police found no evidence Johnson had tried to force his way into the house.
Verdugo has a history of drug use. He was not tested for drugs after the incident, although he later admitted he had taken methadone, Xanax, Paxil and Ambien. When reporters asked if police should have tested Verdugo for alcohol or drugs, Flores agreed, “He should have been.”
There were also questions about the specific location of the stabbing. In his videotaped police interview, Verdugo said it all happened in the driveway. Flores believed his story.
Bill De La Torre, a retired Phoenix Police detective hired by the Johnson family, says he found only small drops of blood on the driveway, but a large amount of blood in the street. Johnson was killed by a stab wound that went from his stomach through his heart, puncturing his aorta. De la Torre doubts he could have made it more than 70 feet with an injury like that. “It’s not credible because of the amount of blood loss,” he says.
“We’re relieved. This is all we ever wanted,” says Scott’s mother, Roberta Johnson. “After four years, we will finally get our day in court.”